The plot of the latest Netflix original film Tall Girl must have taken writers countless hours to craft, let alone the brain power they clearly invested in thinking up the title. I can’t imagine the struggle of compressing the tribulations of being a 6”1 girl in a high school of unusually short students whilst searching for validation in the arms of a man in the only way a Netflix heroine can into just 1 hour 42 minutes. If you want to watch a film that is literally just about a girl who is quite tall, this was made for you.
As someone standing at a mere 5 foot 3 (and a half), admittedly I can’t relate to the struggles tall girls face. I’m definitely not denying that there is a branch of bullying that stems from being tall. There are girls who have had their height mocked and made into an insecurity and that is an unacceptable issue that should be addressed. However, for a number of reasons, this film is not the solution.
If you want to watch a film that is literally just about a girl who is quite tall, this was made for you
Focusing on the story of Jodi (played by Ava Michelle) who is, as the title so eloquently suggests, a tall girl, the film takes us through the journey of this protagonist as she actively pursues a guy in a relationship and treats her friends poorly with no retribution. After finally having enough of being asked “how’s the weather up there?”, Jodi undergoes a ‘transformation’ with the help of her beauty-pageant-winning older sister. A curling wand and one Mac lipstick later, Jodi gains the confidence to pursue Swedish student Stig (Luke Eisner), encouraged by the fact that his girlfriend is one of her ‘original tormentors’ which seems to soften the guilt.
Waiting devotedly by her side, we have Jack Dunkerman (Griffin Gluck): Jodi’s friend who’s madly in love with her and attempts to convince her that their height difference shouldn’t get in the way of their budding romance. Whilst ‘Dunkers’ ends up being somewhat endearing, his manipulation of the characters he claims to care about for purely selfish gain is not. He redeems himself eventually but there was an opportunity to address the toxic behaviour he displayed, an opportunity that was lost in favour of yet another of Jodi’s ‘tall girl’ problems.
Tall Girl is just one of many identical ‘coming-of-age’ films that teaches viewers that in order to gain that self-confidence, you should make yourself look more conventionally pretty
Jodi’s “extreme makeover” is a teen movie trope I’m sick of seeing. By the end of the film, she does go some way to accepting herself, but that realisation shouldn’t have needed a makeover to be achieved. Tall Girl is just one of many identical ‘coming-of-age’ films that teaches viewers that in order to gain that self-confidence, you should make yourself look more conventionally pretty. Makeup can be great, but to have a protagonist reach the same conclusion of self-acceptance without having to remodel themselves would be a positive change.
Whilst I can’t realistically expect a teen rom-com to address the deep-rooted injustices of society, an entire film centring around height as if it is something people are seriously discriminated against for seems excessive. I’m all for representation, but this film misses out on so many opportunities to make real comments on prevalent issues because it’s so caught up in trying to make viewers empathise with Jodi, massively hyperbolizing her ‘struggles’.
In terms of both the quality of film expected from Netflix’s budget and the representation it claims to provide, unfortunately Tall Girl falls short
The director of the film, Nzingha Stewart, responded to the backlash the film received and commented: “A movie doesn’t have to be about you or for you to be of artistic value in the world”. This, however, isn’t the issue I take with it. The issue I have is when a white, privileged, middle-class Western student living in a nuclear family with no obvious issues aside from not being able to wear heels says the line “You think your life is hard? I’m a high school junior wearing size 13 Nikes. Men’s size 13 Nikes. Beat that”. Funnily enough, I think the marginalised groups facing real, life-threatening and socially discriminatory injustices can indeed ‘beat that’.
I could go on for a long time about the moments of this that made me pause the film and stare at the screen incredibly confused. Ultimately, Netflix could have empowered young women to overcome traits that society makes them believe are flaws, even if that trait is something as small as height. Disappointingly, it didn’t. Instead, they made a mediocre film that is almost painfully exactly what it says on the tin, and in terms of both the quality of film expected from Netflix’s budget and the representation it claims to provide, unfortunately Tall Girl falls short.