Tatum Van Dam
'tall girl' falls short
You think your life is hard? I’m a high school junior wearing size 13 Nikes. Men’s size 13 Nikes. Beat that.
Netflix’s latest release, Tall Girl, tells the story of Jodi -- a sixteen year old, white, conventionally attractive girl whose arch nemesis is her towering height of six foot one. Jodi loathes for nothing more than the acceptance from her many classmates that repeatedly ask, how’s the weather up there? (Seriously. The one insult used in this film is asking how the weather is, up there.)
The supposed comedy-drama begins with a scene of Jodi sitting across the room from a classmate. They exchange flirty looks to one another, and tensions increase when it is revealed that the two are coincidentally holding copies of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. The classmate asks, “what’s the big deal with this book anyways?” which leads into Jodi’s first line of the movie: “It’s about alienation. It’s about Ignatius trying to find acceptance in a world that wants nothing to do with him.” She pauses for a moment before saying, “I think his showing off his intelligence is just a way of protecting himself. Which is tragic because the alienation is a source of his strength-” “-and a source of his problem,” finishes the classmate.
Cue the off-camera drumbeat, dramatic as ever. The classmate begins to ask, “would you maybe wanna-” while Jodi packs her book and stands up. The camera angle dramatically shifts upwards with her stride, then switches to an above the shoulder shot from Jodi’s perspective. The drumbeat intensifies. “Wanna what?”, she asks. The viewer is now presented with a wide shot picturing Jodi and her classmate on opposite sides of the frame, as the fellow book reader wears a horrendous expression and walks away.
Now, I presume this whole “Ignatius” scene was supposed to serve two purposes: one, give a metaphorical introduction to Jodi, who feels like an outcast in a society of people that are several inches shorter than her, and two, paint Jodi as an ~intellectual~. This would make sense if, you know, she was (in her own words): an outcast in a society who wants nothing to do with her. To my knowledge, tall people are generally not discriminated against. To my knowledge, tall people are generally not denied a place of work. To my knowledge, tall people are generally not the source of a hate crime. Referring back to my second point, this is one of two scenes where Jodi is pictured reading a book. If the creators wanted Jodi to be the "smart" girl who prefers pencils over partying, it might have been more effective to include more than the two scenes where she is depicted as such.
The writers could have given Jodi a hobby that uses her height to her advantage -- I mean, I know my high school had a volleyball team and a basketball team who would have loved nothing more than to have a six foot one team member. Ava Michelle, the actress who plays Jodi, used to be on Dance Moms, so I presume she might know a thing or two about dancing. She even could have been apart of a theater club given her character’s love for musicals (as a high school theater kid myself, I can confirm that drama kids are the least judgmental and the most accepting). Moreover, her height is two inches away from the average model height. In any of these instances, Jodi would have been able to actively find a community in which she feels accepted for her biggest insecurity and is given a chance to explore her interests more in depth. Instead, her height was used to no one’s advantage. Rather than revealing Jodi’s personality, her height was used as her personality.
The film is not poorly made, but rather, poorly written (think: Game of Thrones season 8, episodes 4-8). The characters are bland, and none of them really have an arc. I suppose it could be argued that Jodi’s outlook on her height changes near the end, but she did not actively pursue anything to achieve her new outlook. Dunkleman, Jodi’s friend who constantly professes his love to her and is repeatedly shut down, is just the slightest bit creepy and manipulative; he doesn’t know how to take “no” for an answer. At one point, he begins to pursue another girl, which could have been an arc for realizing that there are other fish in the sea and it isn’t healthy to let yourself get lead on -- but ultimately, he ends up leaving the girl to chase Jodi, even if “it takes a whole lifetime of waiting for her.” Kimmy, the totally-mean-popular girl, only serves the purpose to make Jodi’s life hell. We do not know anything about her, because any time Kimmy is in the frame she is making silly remarks to Jodi (even in the flashback to grade school). Jodi’s seemingly perfect mother had a moment of vulnerability, but the moment was ruined when it was revealed that she was insecure about being too popular in high school. Her big revelation was being perfect. I don’t want to get into every single character, but there were multiple chances for change, morals, and redemption that were not taken.
Like I said, the movie itself isn’t poorly constructed (disregarding the scene where Jodi is watching an 'iPhone' video that was clearly filmed with a steady cam and overlayed onto an iPhone). I just do not believe that 2019 is the time to give filmic representation to tall people. There is a long line of marginalized groups who deserve representation before the six foot one girls of the world. Before Crazy Rich Asians (2018) was released, the last major film to give Asians representation in cinema was The Joy Luck Club back in 1993.
In a YouGov article titled “Representation in film matters to minorities,” data journalist Hoang Nguyen reports on minority roles in Hollywood cinema. He states:
When it comes to roles available in Hollywood, a new survey from YouGov Omnibus finds that most Americans believe that there are a sufficient amount of television and film roles for white people (59%), and many agree that there are enough roles for men (47%). Fewer are likely to believe that women (37%), blacks (35%), Hispanics (23%), Asians (21%), and LGBTQ people (18%) have enough roles available to them.
Jodi might be getting asked ‘how the weather is up there,’ while the other day, I was walking home and had racial slurs shouted at me -- a common thing to occur amongst us ethnic minorities. Instances like these not only anger me, but make me question why a tall girl gets a film dedicated to her, while so many other groups get a scarce amount of representation; when they do, they are often poorly stereotyped.
It never fails to astound me that Netflix can release pictures like Roma (2018) and Mudbound (2017), and at the same time, release pictures like The Kissing Booth (2018), Sierra Burgess is a Loser (2018), and every other film starring Noah Centineo as the main hot guy. I suppose this could be due to the fact that Netflix isn’t competing with box office numbers, so they aren’t being forced to create an everlasting spectacle for its viewers. Regardless of the production company, I strongly feel that we need to give proper representation to actual marginalized ethnic groups.
Listen, I am not discrediting the fact that, yes, Jodi is tall and I do not doubt that the actress grew up with people reminding her of that; however, this idea of making a movie for “tall people” would have made more sense if she was obscenely tall to the point where she actually was an outcast in society. The whole “tall” thing is comically portrayed and is an unrealistic depiction of the way society treats people that are six foot one. There were chances at developing meaningful character arcs, but instead, the film results in just another predictable teen movie where the pretty [white] protagonist “finds themselves” by doing absolutely nothing.
What’s next, Short guy?