The Half of It by Alice Wu brings a complex narrative, interesting characters, and a nontraditional love story to the teen angst ”love” drama genre. Starting Leah Lewis, as Ellie Chu, the story centers around a Chinese immigrant who lives and works alongside her father Edwin Chu (Collin Chou), a station master in the small fictional town of Squahamish. She’s smart, quiet, and a bit of a loner, making her the perfect shadow writer for sweet but not so articulate Paul (Daniel Diemer). Paul hires Ellie, who needs the money, to write love letters to his crush, literature loving Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Ellie’s secret crush on Aster amplifies, changing her cynical persona into a much more hopeful one.
There are a plethora of elements that could be dissected from this site, including the usage of literature, the written word, mythology, religion, and philosophy, all to explain the complexities of love. There’s also elements of small-town living, going after one’s dreams, and of course, the representation of an authentic and sweet picture of gay love.
However, I want to talk about the immigrant experience and how it plays an essential role in Ellie’s life and love story.
Ellie’s father, Mr. Edwin Chu, arrived in the United States, a trained engineer. Though he worked hard, he couldn’t pursue this career in this new country. He became a station master and signalman. After his wife’s passing, he became depressed; at the beginning of the movie, homebound. He let himself go, leaving Ellie to take care of him, the railroad work, the home, and herself. Ellie doesn’t seem to mind. It’s obvious she loves her dad, and like many of us, feels responsible for a no-English or limited-English parent in the U.S. This causes Ellie to decline an opportunity to leave the town for Grinnell College. The inner turmoil to leave, to explore, to take advantage of the opportunities in the U.S. (the reason why our parents come here in the first place) and the responsibilities to stay behind, care for our relatives, look after their homes, and even the family business, is one we young immigrants and first-generation children, know all too well.
As Ellie begins her letter-writing and interactions with Paul, who dares to defy his family’s expectations at their sausage shop, she begins to see other possibilities for herself. Aster reminds her/reawakens her love of writing and literature, while Paul encourages her to follow her own path. Witnessing this change in his daughter, makes Mr. Chu change as well. Taking charge of his own life, Mr. Chu gives Ellie the final push she needs to pursue Grinnell College and leave Squahamish behind.
Through this love story, Ellie not only learns to love others and herself, but also realizes how leaving and growing is also a way to showcase love, care, and admiration for our immigrant parents and their journeys.