Why Tall Girl’s Dunkleman is Decidedly Not Endearing

Whether or not you’ve taken the time to watch Netflix’s latest rom-com, Tall Girl, you have probably seen at least one strong opinion about it on the Internet. The reactions were many and the reviews were mostly bad. If possible, I believe there is an element of the movie that people have not complained about enough.

That element is Dunkleman, protagonist Jodi’s childhood friend who has had a crush on her for years. Unfortunately for him, she can’t stand the idea of being with a guy who is shorter than her, and she has about half a foot on him. Instead, Jodi pines for the tall Swedish exchange student at their school, leaving Dunkleman heartbroken.

Credit: Netflix

At first glance, his character has potential. There are gender stereotypes that dictate men need to be the taller one in a heterosexual relationship and exploring that could have possibly been interesting. Although the “quirky boy who has a crush on his best friend who doesn’t notice him” trope has been used countless times, done skillfully, it can still make for a good story. Sadly, that is not what happened in this movie.

First of all, Dunkleman is disrespectful to Jodi’s wish to just be friends. Although he believes her desire for a platonic relationship is rooted in her fear of dating someone shorter than she and she needs to work past her insecurities, he needs to allow her to make this decision for herself. Instead, he greets her every morning with a pick-up line and asks her to change her mind. This is not cute or sweet; it is blatantly ignoring her boundaries.

Movies like this tell boys that if a girl turns them down, they need to keep trying until she says yes. This also teaches girls that a guy not taking no for an answer means he really likes her and she should give him a chance. At best, Dunkleman repeatedly hitting on Jodi is obnoxious; at worst, it is harassment. When fictional characters—and real-life people—behave this way, it needs to be called out for what it is.

A more obvious point is that his character simply isn’t well-written. He’s supposed to be sweet, then he shamelessly uses Liz to try to make Jodi jealous. To cover the moral issue here, the writers make Liz say she doesn’t mind this, even though any living breathing person would. He’s supposed to be caring, but he tries to sabotage Jodi’s budding relationship with Stig. There are a few moments when he does endearing things, like when he defends Jodi at the party and when he lists all the things he’s noticed about her over the years, but those moments don’t really fit with the backdrop of the bad behavior he has throughout the rest of the movie. Writers need to earn moments like that, and this writer did not.

Also, it’s important to note that at Dunkleman’s big moment when he gives the shoes to Jodi and tries to make amends, he’s still being creepy. I mean, he walks in her room, finds her sleeping, sits on her bed, and starts playing with her hair. If anyone did that to me I think I would flip them across the room and file a restraining order. This is intrusive, not cute.

Movies and television have a long-running history of sending the message that problematic and even abusive behavior is romantic. I had hoped that after the #MeToo Movement and decades of feminism, we would be moving to a point where people and characters like Dunkleman were called out and not celebrated.

Ultimately, we need to continue to fight for media that teach boys to respect women and girls and teaches girls that the right guy is the one who always respects her boundaries.

 

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