Alice Wu’s The Half of It bucks the typical tropes of teenage coming-of-age dramas and rom-coms, opting to focus on identity as opposed to having everyone locked down at the end. It concludes with Ellie (Leah Lewis) and Aster (Alexxis Lemire) not carving out a relationship together and with Ellie and Paul (Daniel Diemer) realizing, while there are no romantic sparks between them, they are indeed soulmates. Factoring in how their friendship plays out, how they help each other evolve and the way they’re kindred spirits with each other as their true north, it’s clear this Netflix movie is this generation’s Dawson’s Creek.
Dawson’s Creek ran for six seasons after debuting in 1998 on the WB and charted a similar story between Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and Joey (Katie Holmes) as they navigate high-school, university and careers together. Everyone thought they’d be together, but after many on and offs, she ends up with Dawson’s best friend, Pacey (Joshua Jackson). However, the finale reveals they consider each other soulmates due to their journeys of self-discovery as they grew up together.
Wu’s movie follows a similar path, because just like Joey, who goes through the motions with her mom’s death and father’s imprisonment, Ellie’s mom died when she was a kid too, and her dad’s still heartbroken and distant over it. Dawson and Paul help get them out this funk, reminding them they’re still destined for greatness and their moms would be proud of the women they’re becoming.
Also, where Dawson is inspired by Joey to pursue filmmaking, Ellie does the same for Paul. She gets his sausage-making business promoted by sending various letters to distributors and restaurants, which helps build their dynamic as best friends. In both properties, it helps that the chemistry between the leads is so sentimental, endearing and genuine too. To top it off, similar to Dawson inspiring Joey to go to art school, Paul inspires Ellie to leave their podunk town and go write at Grinnell because they just can’t let their potential go to waste.
There are many other arcs which bear similarities too, as Paul lets Ellie go to Aster when he realizes how much she loves her, similar to Dawson supporting Joey and Pacey’s relationship. Also, there’s an underlying theme in both properties emphasizing the message that friendships don’t have to lead to romance or sex. Teens shouldn’t objectify each other to this point, which is why Dawson and Joey took so long to kiss, and why Paul feels bad after thinking he was entitled to hook up with Ellie based on how much time they spent together – this was before he new she was gay.
The LGBT angle is also sussed out in detail between Aster and Ellie, reminding fans of Jack’s ordeal when he came out to Capeside and befriended Dawson’s gang. The same way they stood up for Jack is how Paul stands up for Ellie when he realizes he can’t let the town’s Christianity bubble cloud his judgement about what an amazing person she is. They end up being each other’s muses, and in the end, when Paul playfully runs Ellie’s train down as she leaves town, recreating a moment from a Bollywood movie they loved watching, her emotions show she finally understands what love is about.
This isn’t a grand gesture expecting something in return; it’s to show Ellie she’s brilliantly beautiful and beautifully brilliant to him, a light she didn’t think she ever deserved to be draped in. Dawson does many of these acts for Joey as well to remind her she is always a cut above of the rest, especially as a friend. This leads to Ellie crying for the first time and, like Joey and Dawson, audiences can tell they’ll be forever tethered to each other, because it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.
The Half of It, written and directed by Alice Wu, stars Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire, Colin Chou and Becky Ann Baker. It is currently available to stream on Netflix.
Netflix's The Half of It is this generation's version of the WB's Dawson's Creek with its many similar characters and arcs.