Written and Directed by Alice Wu
Released globally on Netflix on May 1, 2020.
Director’s Note The first time I had my heart broken after coming out as lesbian was not by a girl, but by a guy. A straight white guy from the heartland, no less. If you had picked this guy out of a crowd and said “That boy will be your best friend,” I wouldn’t have believed you. But sometimes you meet someone and for whatever reasons… your “weird” works together. He helped me accept myself as gay at a time when neither of us knew any gays – and the two of us bumbled through the odd terrain of “trying to get a girl.” He succeeded, to our great joy (at least one of us would not die alone!) …and then, disaster. His new girlfriend was wary of us, despite knowing I was gay. And slowly, ineffably, the delicate calculus of our connection eroded. I recall one rainy night, the two of us crying in a car, me blurting, “I don’t get it. If anything were going to happen with us, wouldn’t it already have happened?” And he said, “She’s not worried we’ll sleep together. She’s threatened by our intimacy.” I always remembered that.
The Half of It didn’t start as a movie about teens. I set out to write about 20-something best friends, a lesbian and a straight guy, trying to understand love, while not fully understanding their own connection. And then I hit a wall: I couldn’t find an ending (not in 100 pages) that felt both satisfying and earned. Them’s the breaks when you try to write from life — and you haven’t the faintest idea how to make life work the way you want it to. I didn’t know how to keep that love then, and I certainly don’t know now. So. I threw up my hands and thought, “I should just set this thing in high school.” Because only in high school is everything heightened, every feeling the first and therefore only time you will feel this feeling, and frankly, when it comes to love, don’t we all regress to being teenagers? As often happens in my work, at a certain point, my characters took over; a whole Cyrano component slipped in, and the film became something else entirely.
So here I am, staring down the barrel of mid-life, having just made a movie about teenagers. Now that it’s done, I can see a few things more clearly. For one: I used to think there was only one way to love. That A plus B minus C equals Love. Now that I’m older, I see there are more. So many more ways to love than I had ever imagined.
For another: endings are tricky because we expect answers. Fifteen years ago, with my first film Saving Face, I got one recurring question: “Is this ending… too happy?” At the time, as much as I saw the truth in it for my characters, I confessed to not knowing if that happy ending could be expected in real life; but as a queer woman, I wanted — needed — to see it in order to believe it could happen for me. Now with The Half of It, I’m regularly peppered with 1 questions over whether certain characters end up together in an ever-pointed crescendo toward “But is the ending happy?” (Ha!) My honest answer is that the point of the film isn’t about who ends up with whom. It’s about three people who collide in a moment-in-time before going their separate ways, each now holding the piece of themselves that allows them to become the person they are meant to be. The end of the film is each of their beginnings. And for my characters, I can think of no happier ending.
Which brings me back to the friend who started me down this path. I wrote The Half of It as a way to work through the heartbreak of losing that friendship. In retrospect, I might have been solving for the wrong equation. I’ve always harbored a deep pang over what I could have done differently to keep that friendship, to stave off the heartbreak — but perhaps that was never the point. Heartbreak or not, that friendship helped me become the person I am. Those late nights spent strategizing how to win at love were never about “winning” or “love.” They were about two ding-dongs who cared enough to fully see and accept each other. It is the thing I love most about Ellie and Paul, about Ellie and Aster. And in hindsight, about my friend and me. So on that note: The Half of It. And the hope that some of your endings become beginnings.
Alice Wu May 1, 2020