A Tall Girl Reviews Netflix's Newest Teen Rom-Com 'Tall Girl'
When Netflix announced in November of last year that they were casting for a new movie set in high school about a tall girl, my dear coworker Esther Zuckerman immediately forwarded me the email. Seconds later I was in a Facebook DM with my tallest best friend from school, who now lives in New Orleans where the movie would be filmed and set, both of us half-joking that one or the other ought to prepare an acting reel. When you're tall, being tall becomes your thing whether you want it to or not.
A couple months later, Netflix sent out another announcement: "Ava Michelle, who is 6 feet and 1 inch tall, will play Jodi, a 16 year old who must embrace what makes her different and be proud to stand out, not fit in." I was thrilled. She's so tall -- an inch taller than me even! I would have started a one-woman riot if Netflix had tried to sell 5'10" as tall enough to make an entire movie about. When the trailer for the movie was finally released, I Slacked my boss that day, "I physically need to write a thinkpiece about Tall Girl. My body will decay and crumble into dust if I don't." When I got back to the office, I fired up my screener of the movie, folded each of the six joints in my long, long legs, and settled in.
Tall Girl actually does have a pretty good grasp on what it means to be a tall girl, especially a tall girl in high school, the worst time in your whole life to be a tall girl. Director Nzingha Stewart's film begins with Jodi flirting with a nice young boy in the school library, trading facts about A Confederacy of Dunces. He stands up to go say hello, and she stands as well, except when she stands up it takes her a full five seconds to complete the movement. She towers over her classmate like a cartoon as he cowers beneath her, makes a quick excuse, and books it. "Being a tall guy is great," Jodi says at the movie's midpoint. "But when you're a tall girl, it's the only thing that people see."
There are a few moments like that in Tall Girl that genuinely do speak to the tall girl experience, but the movie is far more concerned with its John Hughes/Pretty in Pink romantic plot than in utilizing Jodi's height to its potential. The tall stuff in Tall Girl is often rudimentary: students ask Jodi "How's the weather up there?" and her nemesis constantly makes disparaging comments about how her stature keeps her from being as pretty or having as many friends as everyone else. "You're the tall girl," she crows. "You'll never be the pretty girl." Okay… sure. A cute Swedish exchange student (Luke Eisner) joins the class and Jodi immediately gets a crush, charmed by his foreign eccentricities and his wonderful height while meanwhile her teeny best guy friend (Griffin Gluck) nurses his unrequited love for her. A lot of her insecurity comes from what's happening on the outside, instead of her own perception of herself.
Here's what happens to you when you're a tall girl. You go insane. You tell everyone that you're 5'11", feeling a pathological need to shave that last awful inch off your real height to make yourself appear shorter, more manageable, more normal. You break down sobbing in a Gap dressing room because all you can find are pants that fit around your waist, but are too short, and pants that are long enough but are comically too big around the middle. If you're blessed not only with long limbs, but with broad shoulders as well, every long-sleeved shirt you own will look like you've stolen it off the back of André the Giant. When you find an online store that sold pants by waistline and inseam, you will buy out their entire stock. The scoliosis you end up with later in life might simply be a genetic problem or it might be your fault for slouching your way through middle school.
Three teachers in a row will nickname you "Stretch" before you're 15. You agonize over finding shoes that fit that can also accommodate your flat feet and despair when a sneaker or loafer adds even a few centimeters to your spider monkey limbs. You will keep dating rare tall boys far longer than you should because being able to look up to look at them feels so novel. When someone says the words "group photo" you, like Pavlov's dog reacting to a dinner bell, instinctively move to the back of the room.
You come up with coping mechanisms: I went through a phase when, whenever anyone would comment on my height, I would answer, "WHAT???" as if I had no idea. Imagine getting sassed by a giant 10-year-old. Later on your canned response to the obvious remarks will change to the more jovial, "I get that one a lot." You gather tall friends around you, as many as you can find. You become quieter, not because you're naturally so, but because that's the only way you can keep yourself from being put on display by your own body. You'll bookmark Celeb Heights dot com and be able to rattle a few celeb heights off the top of your head at parties: Allison Janney is 6 feet tall and Armie Hammer is 6'5" and I know this because I have to.
There are things that rule about being tall. You can always grab whatever you want off the top shelf -- and you will be deputized to do so by nice old ladies in the Walgreens who only want the brand of top shelf dish soap that's wayyyy up there near the ceiling. When you join your school's rowing team you'll discover that you're pretty okay at it -- not because of any athletic finesse that's been hiding itself for 17 years, but because your arms can reach twice as far as half of your teammates. In Tall Girl, Jodi realizes her worth not because she becomes any more comfortable with herself -- though she does wear an amazing suit to prom that I wish I had had the confidence to do when I was 17 -- but because she becomes more open to liking a certain type of boy.
And yes, the movie is a rom-com styled after a particularly dated type of teen movie, so that is the natural sequence of events. But, as a tall girl, I was expecting something deeper than jokes about weather and a dressing room montage. Being tall when you're a teen is insane, let alone being a tall girl. Netflix's new movie is a perfectly charming teen comedy about the endurance test that is your average American high school, but when it comes to the deeper psychological implications of what it means to be so tall as a teenaged girl, Tall Girl, unfortunately, falls short.