I’m a simple girl. I see a new show or movie pop up on my Netflix, I click. So when I found Tall Girl front-and-center on a lazy Saturday morning, I thought, why not?
The teen romcom passed my sight earlier this month when its trailer had dropped. I didn’t think much of it then and, sadly, after watching it, I don’t think any much more of it now.
Tall Girl follows the coming-of-age tale of 16-year-old Jodi Kreyman – slender, blonde, blue-eyed, conventionally pretty… and 6’ 1.5 feet tall, an attribute she’s been painfully made aware of at every turn and milestone.
Classmates making puns and jokes – “how’s the weather up there?” – being called Skyscraper and LeBron, a misguided father who obsessively learned the histories of tall women and their early demises, and a society which prefers its women to take up as little space as possible – how else was Jodi to end up in high school than painfully aware of her tallness?
Enter the slouching and nondescript clothing to blend into the background as much as possible.
Deep inside, like anyone, Jodi wants to be seen. Though, she doesn’t feel deserving – in spite of the rousing speeches of best friend Fareeda, her Dad’s many attempts of connecting, and the numerous dating attempts made by childhood friend Jack “Too-Short-For-Me” Dunkleman, Jodi remained alienated.
Until Swedish foreign exchange student, Stig “Taller-Than-Me” Mohlin, walks into frame and Tall Girl devolves into every high school romcom ever.
While the movie ran with a new concept – #tallgirlproblems – it sacrificed every other bit of originality. All girls swooning over the new boy? Check. Token mean girl who our protagonist must fight against for the affections of said new (and tall!) boy? Check. Best friend character who merely exists to lift up protagonist? Check. Painfully illogical, soul-hurting dialogue? Check!
“Let’s face it, Jodi. You’re the tall girl. You’ll never be the pretty girl.”
In true romcom fashion, our protagonist perseveres. She comes to terms with her tallness, gives a speech at homecoming, and walks away to get her fairytale ending kiss. The place where she finds her self-esteem though? Through the validation of a boy.
I’m tired of these tropes being played over and over again. I’m especially tired of Netflix continuing to spit out weak, played-out, nonsensical romcom content – The Kissing Booth, The Perfect Date, Sierra Burgess is a Loser – when it can clearly do better (Stranger Things, Russian Doll, Dear White People, Sex Education).
In its defense, Tall Girl touched on an evergreen note of angst that we’ve all dealt with time and again – alienation, feeling like an outcast – and it did so not just with Jodi but with supporting characters as well.
“The deeper pitch is that it’s about how hard high school can be and how all of us feel this sort of insecurity about something. We think we’re alone in that struggle in this painful place without knowing everybody else feels that way,” said the film’s director, Nzingha Stewart, in an interview with BlackGirlNerds.
However, it not only failed to reach new heights but failed to rise to the occasion itself by passingly, superficially dealing with the issues at hand.
At the same time, it played around with damaging tropes (albeit, subtly) as well like unhealthy eating habits to achieve thinness, getting a makeover to attract male attention, going on a date with your bully to feel accepted, and choosing to be with a boy not because you have feelings for him, but because he validates you. Without meaning to, Tall Girl took a stance that pushed us back into the late 90s.
“If you want a guy to notice you, you’d have to be willing to go all the way… fixing you is a two person job.”
Ultimately, what I expected out of Tall Girl was not an Oscar-worthy performance that radically impacts today’s sociopolitical environment by tackling a social justice moment, but one that showed evolution. I simply wanted Tall Girl to be better than past high school romcoms. I wanted it to step out of the stereotypes and highlight Jodi’s struggles another way.
High school romcoms are a fun way to pass time and kick it back with a group of friends, so for the next one that queues up on our Netflix screens, I hope it’s better than this.
And, if anything, I hope Tall Girl lands itself some tall viewers who find themselves seen.