Netflix Wants You to Know How Hard It Is to Be a Tall, Beautiful White Girl
The Netflix rom-com “Tall Girl” is finally here. Is it as bad as its heavily mocked trailer?
Within the first 10 minutes of Netflix’s latest (controversial) film offering, Tall Girl, it is clear why the trailer was widely met with eyerolls and online scorn. “You just have to be strong in the face of adversity,” Angela Kinsey, in character as a pageant mom à la Jennifer Aniston in the (much better) Netflix film Dumplin’, advises the forlorn teenage protagonist in one of the movie’s earliest scenes. “I mean, that’s how I got through high school.” Jodi, the titular “tall girl” played by Dance Moms’ Ava Michelle, scoffs from across the dinner table, her blonde ponytail bobbing. “Mom, everyone loved you in high school,” she says, “Ten guys asked you to prom. I mean, what adversity did you face, exactly?”
Jodi’s adversity, if you haven’t already guessed, is that she is too tall. She is a slender, six-foot-one, 16-year-old white girl who has to endure relentless refrains of, “How’s the weather up there?” which sounds more like a cheesy dad joke than the taunt of cruel bullies, but I digress. Her classmates allegedly call her things like “LeBron” or ‘Skyscraper,” though we never hear these nicknames uttered by anyone except Jodi herself in fits of self-deprecation.
When the Tall Girl trailer dropped last month, it was immediately roasted on Twitter for, well, obvious reasons. One Twitter user shared the clip with the comment, “Wait are you telling me that this isn’t an SNL sketch?” Another tweeted, “I can’t believe Netflix decided tall white girls are a minority that need representation ASAP.” Most of the angry reactions were from people who felt that the film was a step in the wrong direction for representation on screen. Someone else pointed to the fact that Jodi’s black best friend Fareeda, played by Anjelika Washington, does not appear to get the screen time she deserves (after watching the film, I can confirm this to be the case).
Essentially, Tall Girl is about Jodi Kreyman, a high school student in New Orleans who has spent her whole life ashamed of her height and is bullied for towering over her peers. Incidentally, Jodi’s dad (Steve Zahn) actually seems to be the biggest bully, chatting over meals about how tall people are prone to osteoporosis and early death. In a disturbing flashback played for laughs, Zahn’s character asks a physician if they can give 3-year-old Jodi hormones to stunt her growth, then, when advised that the hormones could cause infertility, turns to the toddler to ask if she even wants to have kids.
Jodi’s older sister Harper (Sabrina Carpenter) is a beauty queen who talks incessantly about restricting her carb intake and snagging the Miss Teen Louisiana crown. Harper’s great tragedy in life is that, in spite of her average height, upper-middle-class upbringing, and conventional physical beauty, she has allergies and frequently puffs on an inhaler. As Harper helplessly sneezes and surveys the bejeweled ballgowns laid out on the bed, Jodi introduces her “super-hot” sister in voiceover: “She was spared the tall gene, but at least there is some balance in the genetic universe. She got Grandpa Larry’s allergies.”
The drama picks up when a Hemsworth-esque foreign exchange student named Stig arrives at school, capturing Jodi’s attention. It is unclear if there is a plot-related reason to make Jodi’s love interest, played by American actor Luke Eisner, Swedish. The best explanation I could come up with was that making Eisner do a comically bad Swedish accent was some sort of hazing ritual, or else the writers just got a kick out of hearing Jodi’s name pronounced “Yo-di” over and over.
There are too many ridiculous details from the movie to fit into this article, from the dialogue, which contains lines like, “Let’s face it, Jodi. You’re the tall girl, you’ll never be the pretty girl,” to the fact that one character spends the entire film carrying around a milk crate in anticipation of the moment that he will finally get to kiss Jodi.
Now, it is important to note that I am the exact target audience for these types of cringey, train-wreck Netflix original movies. Last December, I gleefully watched The Princess Switch and reveled in Vanessa Hudgens’ range as she played her own twin, Lindsay Lohan-style, executing not one, but two terrible accents. As such, you can trust my opinion that Tall Girl is not bad in the can’t-look-away, guilty pleasure sense; it’s just regular-bad, mainly because it is boring (though I’ll admit I was absolutely charmed by the aforementioned milk-crate kiss).
That said, I am not convinced that it deserves to be labeled as seriously offensive, tone-deaf, or harmful, as it was back in August. For one thing, the director, Nzingha Stewart, is a black woman whose impressive résumé includes directing episodes of How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, and Grey’s Anatomy. She spoke to Black Girl Nerds about the response to the trailer. “I think if something doesn’t offend you outright,” Stewart said, “then let it live. A movie doesn’t need to be about you or for you to be of artistic value in the world.”
There is room to argue that even if Jodi’s life is not as horrible as she believes it to be—even if her version of adversity pales in comparison to that experienced by countless others (and it absolutely does)—the film is intended to comment more generally on the struggles with confidence and self-image everyone endures in high school. It is undeniable that no matter how teenage girls are perceived by their peers, they are often self-conscious and feel uncomfortable in their changing bodies.
Stewart herself explained in the interview that “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.” This explanation of the film would be slightly more convincing if the entire thing was not devoted to Jodi’s own personal trauma. Tall Girl rarely probes beneath the surface of other characters’ insecurities and at one point, Jodi even dismisses the idea that they could be as unbearable as her own, saying, “You think your life is hard? I’m a high school junior wearing size 13 Nikes.”
Regardless, Tall Girl is simply not an important enough movie to warrant the kind of intense online backlash foreshadowed by the reactions to the trailer. If you yourself are a quote-unquote “tall girl,” you will probably even find some comforting solidarity in Jodi’s story. Otherwise, save yourself the time and stream one of Netflix’s other charming rom-com offerings, like Dumplin’, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or Someone Great, instead.