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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

Netflix's ‘Tall Girl’ falls short

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I had such high hopes for “Tall Girl,” but those hopes were dashed within the first 10 minutes. 

“Tall Girl” is a Netflix original movie directed by Nzingha Stewart — the directorial debut of her first feature film. Before the trailer was released to the public, the film was lauded for giving a directorial opportunity to a black woman, a group vastly underrepresented in the film industry. Stewart even received praise from acclaimed “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins.

With “Tall Girl,” the directing isn't the problem — it's the writing. The movie revolves around the plight of 6”1’ Jodi Kreyman and her battles with low self esteem. Jodi is portrayed by Ava Michelle — an actor, dancer and advocate for body positivity who was previously on A&E’s “Dance Moms.” 

Jodi is regularly teased about her height. The teasing becomes exacerbated when a new tall, conventionally attractive Swedish exchange student named Stig Mohlin arrives at school. Jodi is instantly attracted to Stig, but she faces stiff competition in the form of her lifelong bully, Kimmy Stitcher.

From then on, the plot of “Tall Girl” follows that of a typical romantic comedy: Jodi captures Stig’s attention, they go on dates together, but Stig wants to be popular and soon shuns Jodi in a very public way at a house party. Jodi, upset by this betrayal, decides that she is better off single, gains some self esteem and shows up to prom alone but proud. 

While at prom, Jodi gives a speech about the importance of accepting one’s differences and loving one’s true self. As she leaves prom, she is followed by her childhood best friend, Dunkers, who Jodi realizes she was in love with the whole time. They kiss. Everything is good in the world again. The end. 

All in all, “Tall Girl” offers absolutely nothing new to the dramedy that is a teenage girl's coming of age. The plot is uninteresting and full of terrible tropes, including that of the perennially quirky, short male friend-zoned love interest, who, blazer and all, is ripped straight from “Pretty in Pink.” Even his name, Jack Dunkelman — or “Dunkers,” as coined by Stig — seems to be a direct plagiarization of “Pretty in Pink's” “Duckie.” 

To highlight his weirdness, Dunkers even carries around a milk crate as a backpack. This bit is never explained — at least, not until the end of the movie when Jodi and Dunkers are about to kiss. 

“I knew the day would come where I would need it, and I wanted to be ready,” Dunkers says before standing on top of it, becoming just tall enough to reach Jodi’s lips. It’s as corny as it sounds. 

The whole movie seems to operate on the level of bad that is John Hughes fanfiction. Maybe “Tall Girl” would’ve been revolutionary in the 1980s, but, in 2019, it's tired, dry and boring. 

Another trope perpetuated by “Tall Girl” is that of the zany best friend whose only defining characteristic is her endless support for the protagonist. For Jodi, this role is fulfilled by Fareeda, played by Anjelika Washington, one of the few actors of color in the whole movie. It feels wrong to watch a movie that portrays discrimination as a singular issue faced only by tall girls, especially when a movie like “Tall Girl” employs so few actors of color.

And this is not to say that, in 2019, we cannot make a heartfelt movie about a young, female protagonist who learns to love herself and have fun despite the best efforts of her bullies. In fact, I was hoping “Tall Girl” would offer a nuanced portrayal of the types of bullying, discrimination and body harassment young girls face, even at the middle school level. Coming-of-age movies featuring a female protagonist are a welcome sight in a society rife with rape culture and slut shaming.

But one need only look at the recent influx of coming-of-age movies offering a complex look at the life of teenage girls to know that “Tall Girl” missed its mark. Thinking back, movies like “The Edge of Seventeen,” “Eighth Grade” and “Book Smart” were smash hits that still adequately conveyed the complexities of the modern teenage girl and her plight. But, of course, even with these movies, it’s still glaringly obvious that all the female leads are portrayed by white women.

Sadly, “Tall Girl” is just another example of the lazy, trope-filled storytelling that plagues teen romantic comedies and the coming-of-age film genre. 

 

Movie: “Tall Girl”

Director: Nzingha Stewart

Starring: Ava Michelle, Sabrina Carpenter, Griffin Gluck

If You Like: The Kissing Booth, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser

Shamrocks: 0.5 out of 5