Last month, Netflix released “Tall Girl,” its latest in a long line of attempts to make a noteworthy teen romantic comedy. Featuring countless teen movie tropes and stereotypes — not limited to mean girls, dim-witted blondes, makeovers and unrequited loves — the movie possesses little originality. While it may bring height into the average teen movie discourse, “Tall Girl” is an unnecessary and badly written film.
Throughout 2019, Netflix has churned out countless films and TV shows targeting teenagers. While some, like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” have garnered a great deal of attention, most seem to fall short. Ironically, director Nzingha Stewart’s “Tall Girl” is one of these less fortunate films, as it has made more headlines for its laughable premise than its quality.
With a title as creative as the rest of the plot, “Tall Girl” revolves around Jodi (Ava Michelle), a 16-year-old girl who stands at 6 feet, 1.5 inches tall. Jodi feels insecure about her impressive stature, particularly concerning her ability to find a suitable love interest. Despite her best friend Jack Dunkleman’s (Griffin Gluck) near constant confessions of love, Jodi wants to date a boy that is taller than her.
Everything changes when Swedish exchange student Stig (Luke Eisner) comes to town. Blonde, handsome and most importantly taller than Jodi, Stig is seemingly everything that a tall girl could want. Unfortunately for Jodi, he is everything the shorter girls could want, too. Before long, Kimmy Stitcher (Clara Wilsey), the most popular girl, sets her eyes on Stig, and the two must compete for his attention.
Sadly, the rest of the movie’s plot remains as formulaic and cliche as its setup. Even Jodi’s character seems to lack personality apart from her height, as even her ability to play the piano, one of her only individual traits, is linked to her large hand size. The movie hardly ever finds Jodi talking about anything unrelated to her height or her love life, leaving her character flat and underdeveloped despite leading the film.
Moreover, “Tall Girl” is woefully unaware of its vapid nature and insensitive to the point of being offensive. While the movie seemingly attempts to advocate for body positivity, it does little to actually critique conventional beauty standards. At the end of the day, Jodi is a tall, blonde, conventionally attractive, upper-middle-class white teenage girl, yet she is implied to understand adversity more than any other character in the movie.
In the opening scenes of the film, Jodi goes as far as to say, “You think your life is hard? I’m a high school junior wearing size 13 Nikes — Men’s size 13 Nikes. Beat that.” In this instance and more, “Tall Girl” seems to exaggerate Jodi’s plight while ignoring the possibility that any other person could face a greater issue than being tall or starved for male attention. Making more diverse and nuanced teen movies would be a more suitable direction for Netflix.
This validation from a male love interest seems to be the only way Jodi can become more confident in herself. She pines for Stig before she even knows him, and only on the basis of his height does she find him interesting. At the same time, she ignores the romantic advances of Jack because he is shorter than her and therefore unworthy. In this way, Jodi herself reinforces the idea that she needs a tall boy to feel secure as a tall girl and offers little in terms of growth and development throughout the film.
Despite its many flaws, “Tall Girl” is not a complete flop. Jodi’s best female friend Fareeda (Anjelika Washington) provides a witty and refreshing respite from the movie’s overdrawn cliches. With dreams to become a fashion designer, Fareeda is one of the most interesting characters in the film and stays loyal to Jodi throughout. The movie’s presentation of friendship is wholesome and sweet and deserved more screen time, even if it struggled to tackle true self-confidence.
Regardless, the film’s attempt to discuss the journey toward body positivity and self-love is important for its demographic. At an age where little differences are exaggerated and seem significant, highlighting Jodi’s height is relatable and does connect to a problem certain teenagers do face. The fact that “Tall Girl” makes an effort to emphasize the importance of self-love is certainly commendable. However, due to its lack of originality and sensitivity in dealing with difficult topics, “Tall Girl” fails to make either a cognizant social statement or a quality film.