I Watched Tall Girl So You Don’t Have To

As per a previous article of mine, it’s clear that I am a huge fan of representation in the entertainment industry. I believe that portrayals of relevant issues via storytelling is key in building interpersonal relationships and understanding each other, and therefore are crucial in the progression of our society. In addition to my love for representation, another passion of mine is teen rom-coms. Every time I see a new teen movie is released, my heart skips a beat out of sheer excitement.

It is probably not difficult to believe then, that I watched Netflix’s new teen film Tall Girl on the very day it was released. Indeed, the film was thought-provoking, to say the least.

Put simply, Tall Girl tells the story of Jodi, a 16-year-old girl who has been granted the worst of luck in the genetic lottery; she is blonde, conventionally attractive, and worst of all: six-foot-one! Gasp!

 

[screenshots by Eden]

From the beginning, the movie seems confused about what it is trying to be and say. As I clicked play, I urged myself to go into it with an open mind, yet this did not help. I thought to myself that perhaps it is revealed to us that she has a medical condition which causes her to grow – but this is confirmed not to be the case in the first three minutes. Nonetheless, Jodi’s father shows serious symptoms of Munchausen-by-proxy by acting like he is waiting for her to drop dead any second, throughout the entire film. But the movie is not really about her having a difficult father-daughter relationship either.

Jodi also gets bullied for being tall. But it is not really a film about the dangers of bullying either, because the bullies pretty much stop being mean to her once she takes her hair down from the Pony Tail ™. Also, Jodi has a best friend Fareeda who defends her endlessly, and she is continuously courted by Dunkleman, a boy who is in love with her but whom she keeps turning down because he is “too short”.

I have to admit the movie did make me laugh. A lot. For instance, a Swedish exchange student, Stig (played by the most American surfer dude guy ever, who slips in and out of his ‘accent’ every two seconds) is introduced to us by having him walk into chemistry class where he… says nothing at all and instead goes straight to the whiteboard to solve a problem. Five minutes later, Dunkleman is getting picked up from school by his mom, and there Stig is, sitting in the front seat, with confused Dunkleman looking like he wants to combust (because Jodi likes Stig and therefore he must dislike him). I cackled as I imagined his mom either A) not bothering to ever tell him that they’re going to house a student for a year or B) his mom finding a confused Stig wandering the school parking lot in search for a place to stay. There is either a poorly-organised exchange program to blame here, or Dunkleman’s mom just really DGAF.

Ten years ago, I would have eaten this movie right up. But that is the issue. In 2019, this movie feels tone deaf and outdated, since it is the millionth play on the same old tropes; the most obvious one being the Pony Tail ™ trope. We have what feels like a gazillion movies already, where the “ugly” girl takes down her hair and suddenly everyone realises that she was beautiful all along! when in reality the girls playing these “ugly” characters embody nothing but Western beauty standards.

I am not saying that people cannot be insecure for being tall. However, the way that this movie attempts to position Jodi’s tallness as a big, life-ruining attribute, is not only done badly, but also incredibly tone deaf. The line delivered by Jodi’s narration “You think your life is hard? I’m a high school junior wearing size 13 Nikes” felt unreal to me. Jodi’s best friend is literally a black girl living in Louisiana, yet she is centering this discussion on the size of her feet?

While Jodi’s insecurity over her height is not laughable in itself, the fact that this whole film is basically a drama about it feels a bit silly. Tallness is usually regarded as attractive, and rarely has anybody been denied, for example, a job or housing, or been killed for, their height.

Do not get me wrong. I am not one to expect every movie to be a deep social commentary. I want there to be a thousand Paul Blart: Mall Cops and endless Riverdale episodes. Entertainment does not, by any means, need to always be hard-hitting, thought-provoking and serious.

But in my opinion, Tall Girl misses the mark. In the age of social media, diet culture has gained more traction and managed to lodge itself across different platforms. Not only do these platforms serve the people who fit into Western beauty standards the best, we are also bombarded by advertisements for laxatives masked as “detox teas” and other “wellness” products, whose existence is directly a product of our society’s deep-rooted fatphobia. And, the movie itself utilises diet culture talk. In a scene, Jodi is having a chat with her beauty pageant queen sister, who tells Jodi to slap her in the face if she catches her eating carbs ever again.

Tall Girl had the platform to take a stance on the detrimental norms regarding girls’ body image. It tried to deliver the message that everybody is beautiful, but the packaging of the message is incompatible with the message itself. As it is, Tall Girl felt like watching a movie about a girl realising that she could be a supermodel if she wanted to. And that does not really allow for a lot of relatability, which is often the main element of teen films.

I watched Tall Girl so you don’t have to. In fact, I watched it about five times to write this article, and I still had to leave a lot of stuff out. All in all, it is messy and confused about what it is trying to be, and the attempt to make a film about accepting your insecurities ultimately fell flat. But it is, admittedly, decent entertainment, if you want to watch something that does not require any brain power to be able to take it in.