Mansi Vithlani and Yasmin Jafar
The Netflix film tries to create some kind of awareness of female scrutiny, but misses the mark in absolutely every way possible. What went wrong?
Netflix’s latest film Tall Girl revolves around a six-foot-one (1.85m) teen, Jodi (Ava Michelle), coming to terms with her height, venturing on a journey to self-love. The film features characters alongside Jodi battling against their own ‘quirks’ and ‘flaws’, setting it up as a good tool to talk about self-acceptance.
However, the film received an immense amount of backlash. The central message gets lost in clichés, cringe-worthy scenes and questionable acting.
So, what went wrong?
The focus of the film is trivial and comes off as pretentious. At first, it might be easy to empathise with Jodi, as we all suffer from insecurities. But the repetition of ‘Size 13 Nikes’ and the constant self-deprecation makes the viewer annoyed rather than apologetic.
Not only does Jodi struggle to fit in at school but also in her household, unable to open up to her parents about her insecurities. It then results in restricting herself from pursuing her passion. Considering that nowadays we’re trying to promote self-love, Jodi undergoing a physical transformation undermines what society is trying to fight.
Jodi receives a makeover to feel more comfortable in her own skin. Understandably, we’re all allowed to change things about ourselves to boost our confidence; however, the film exaggerates this process for the wrong reasons.
Jodi seeks validation from a boy, resulting in the cliché transformation to align with a feminine ideal. Jodi only begins to feel confident once Stig (Luke Eisner) shows interest in her, disrupting her friendships.
It also seems ironic that Jodi emphasises how she feels discriminated against due to her height. She doesn’t want to date anyone shorter than her, suggesting she’s also judging people based off physical features.
Are you serious?
The film constantly attempts to deal with serious issues but misses the point. A clear example is the strengthening relationship between Jodi and her sister Harper (Sabrina Carpenter). Their newfound bond is all about changing Jodi’s style and look, instead of encouraging her to be herself.
It seems ridiculous that, in 2019, Netflix releases a film that promotes changing yourself to please others and endorses competition against each other, rather than unity, particularly amongst women.
Harper’s storyline perfectly demonstrates how much Tall Girl attempts to deal with hefty issues but seriously misses the mark. As a beauty pageant contestant, Harper is concerned with her body image, while her allergies are depicted as her flaw – another odd angle to take on someone’s imperfections.
Harper discusses eating no carbs at all to compete in the pageant, touching on eating disorders. But the film doesn’t deal with her coming to terms with her own body image.
Arguably, the movie could have focused on Harper’s storyline more. It could’ve explored her eating disorder and struggles with accepting her body. It may have resonated with the audience better, making the film more relatable.
Similarly, the sisterhood was heart-warming yet comedic, and it would have been satisfying to see this relationship explored further instead of other futile scenes.
Another key part of the backlash is the fact that a wealthy white girl like she’s living a difficult life. Once again, the movie loses a chance to explore another perspective on life at high school. With Jodi’s best friend being black, she herself would have faced discrimination from the rest of society.
Although we shouldn’t undermine the issues that someone may face, no matter how big or small they are, the emphasis on how hard she feels her life is seems pretentious at times.
The good parts
Beneath all the mistakes the film makes, there is a message they’re trying to put across. Although lost in translation, it does at times highlight the kinds of issues that tall women face. The stereotype that being tall isn’t associated with femininity is shown through the rejection Jodi faces from guys and teasing from classmates due to her height.
The film also highlights the importance of parent-child interaction despite showing the stereotypical my parents don’t understand me-scenes. With social media and constant trolling, teenagers can easily feel insecure when reaching out to their parents as they may feel embarrassed or believe they won’t be understood. The film, surprisingly yet successfully, portrays this.
Although Jodi’s father indirectly calls her a freak and wants her to feel normal, he learns to understand her insecurity and accept her height. This is perhaps the most important message of the film: bond with your parents or an authoritative figure and be truthful about your insecurities so help can be given.
Tall Girl is essentially a film that aspires to be original but fails in many ways. Netflix succeeds in producing another clichéd high school movie and fails to delve into what it sets out to do. It was an entertaining watch for the wrong reasons and perhaps shouldn’t have received the green-light in the first place.