REVIEW: This week, teenagers are leading a global strike against climate change. Meanwhile, they’re communicating in ways you can’t imagine on apps you’ve barely heard of. This is a politically and technologically engaged generation.
Not that you’d know it from watching the insipid teenagers of Tall Girl, the latest romantic comedy to drop on Netflix. It’s been a while since I was a teen, but I’m insulted by this movie on their behalf.
As the title suggests, it’s about a tall girl: Jodi (Ava Michelle) looms so far above her friends, family and schoolmates that she’s a social outcast doomed never to have a boyfriend. High stakes indeed.
Okay, fine, you know what — everyone deserves to see their struggles represented on screen, even the very tall. Although at 183cm, Jodi isn’t even that tall. She’s also kind, smart, talented, thin, affluent and beautiful, which makes it a little hard to feel sorry for her.
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Jodi’s romantic prospects are limited to class nerd/shortie Dunkleman (Griffin Gluck), who she doesn’t want to date because standing next to him makes her look even taller by comparison. At home, Jodi’s overshadowed by her normal-height, pageant queen sister Harper (Sabrina Carpenter). Things look grim until the arrival of Swedish exchange student Stig (Luke Eisner) — who’s so blond, pretty and tall he makes the Hemsworth brothers look like trolls.
The usual romcom tropes unfold with zero irony or flair: a love triangle, a shopping-and-makeover scene, a piano duet, a stirring speech of self-acceptance at the prom. You can almost certainly guess how it ends. None of it’s bad enough to qualify as so-bad-it’s good — even Eisner’s Ikea catalogue attempt at a Swedish accent is merely annoying, not amusing.
What’s most remarkable about Tall Girl is how politically regressive it feels: its mean girl, Kimmy (Clara Wilsey), is a bitch to Jodi for no reason other than that it serves the plot. Regina George, who entered pop culture in 2004, was far more ruthless and well-rounded.
Jodi’s BFF is Fareeda (Anjelika Washington, a black actress), is similarly shallow. She’s character with no agency who apparently only exists to add colour to a mostly white cast, a role that was spoofed by Not Another Teen Movie way back in 2001.
And the film’s romantic resolution is astonishingly backwards-looking. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled, but the moral of Tall Girl is: if you incessantly hound the girl who’s rebuffed you for years, you’ll eventually be rewarded with her affection.
Don’t today’s woke teens deserve more than to be represented like this? No wonder that the film has copped a backlash for conflating the injustices of actual discrimination with the indignity of being teased for your height.
By the way, that teasing never rises above the level of “How’s the weather up there?”-style gags, with one exception. When Jodi confesses that she wants to be Taylor Swift, Kimmy fires back: “More like Taller Swift”. Not bad, Kimmy, not bad.
Tall Girl would normally come and go without much fuss, but there are a couple of reasons it might have caught your attention (other than reading this review — if these words are your first introduction to this drab film, I am truly sorry).
First, it’s become something of a sport on social media to mock at the worst of Netflix’s original productions. Tall Girl has (deservingly) joined psychological thriller Secret Obsession, Christmas dreck The Princess Switch and the truly execrable Falling Inn Love on the list of Twitter targets.
Second, Netflix’s algorithm may have recommended it to you: the streaming site draws on customer viewing data, rich metadata, and artificial intelligence to predict things it thinks you’ll enjoy watching. So you should probably feel a little insulted if it’s pushing something as mediocre as Tall Girl at you.