In 2004, Chinese-American software designer-turned-filmmaker Alice Wu made her directorial debut with Saving Face, a family drama about the stormy relationship between a single mother (Joan Chen) and her lesbian daughter (Michelle Krusiec).
The movie, inspired by Wu’s own coming-out story, opened to critical acclaim and awards buzz, including a Best Actress nod for Krusiec at the Golden Horse Awards. But before we could start the countdown clock on her next project, something happened: nothing.
Not really — she did a few writer-for-hire gigs and sold a TV series pitch based on her experiences in the tech world (hello, Microsoft!) before quitting showbiz to look after her ailing mother, and before you know it, she’s behind the camera again… 15 years later.
In 2020, she’s back with The Half of It, which just premiered on Netflix on May 1. Set in a fictional Midwest hamlet of Squahamish, the teen dramedy stars Nancy Drew’s Leah Lewis as a shy, straight-A student who makes extra pocket money by writing papers for her school mates. One of them, an adorkable jock who loves cooking (Daniel Diemer) hires her to pen a love letter to his crush, Aster (Alexxis Lemire), the resident It-girl Ellie happens to have a thing for as well.
Holy smoke, it’s Some Kind of Wonderful meets Cyrano de Bergerac!
It was never Wu’s intention to make a teen flick as her overdue follow-up. “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,” she explains in the production notes.
After much delay and deliberation, Wu, who turned 50 last month, decided to relocate her love story to a high school. “Because only in high school is everything heightened,” she adds. “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?”
By subverting familiar rom-com tropes, Wu hopes to examine the different forms of love. “When I was younger, I watched so many romantic comedies, read so many romance novels, and I think, we as a society really exalt romantic love where you have to find the person you are going to marry and once you do, your life is complete,” says she.
“But as I get older, I realised that there’s much more nuances than that. Romantic love is certainly important, but it’s no less important and not any more important than all these other loves,” says Wu who has had “relationships that are not romantic but have a profound effect on my life.”
Here, 8days.sg chatted with Wu (in San Francisco) and Lewis (from Los Angeles) via Google Hangout and found out more about their ode to platonic love which recently won Best Narrated Feature at Tribeca Film Festival.