Over the past few years, there’s been an influx of horrible coming-of-age films, especially ones made by Netflix. At first, it was almost entertaining watching these deeply flawed movies, but there’s only so much Sierra Burgess and The Perfect Date one can take. In fact, the consistent mix of terrible writing, under-developed characters and bland protagonists has almost convinced me that Netflix makes awful coming-of-age films on purpose.
Their most recent release is Tall Girl, the story of 16-year-old Jodi, a high school junior who has always felt uncomfortable in her own skin by virtue of her above average height. When the trailer for Tall Girl came out and the ensuing Internet discourse along with it, I was intrigued by some of the responses. The main reaction from audiences appeared to be frustration—frustrationthat despite all the diverse, underrepresented stories still out there waiting to be told, Netflix continues to choose to make movies built on the same boring, predictable, overused equation.
Before having even watched Tall Girl I could already tell exactly what was going to happen, right down to the requisite homecoming scene, and the poor writing did nothing to make up up for the predictable plot. The writing of this and other similarly abysmal coming-of-age movies makes me wonder—is this how screenwriters and directors really think teenagers are? Have they ever met a teenager? This new wave of Relatable High School Movies isn’t relatable at all.
In the movie, Jodi is haunted by the constant bullying and insecurity that comes with her height, and resolves to bring as little attention to herself as possible. When she forms a crush on Stig, a handsome Swedish exchange student—who, surprise, is also tall—she decides to switch things up by going on a journey of self-love, as these high school movies usually play out.
What bothered me the most about Tall Girl was how this supposedly huge issue in Jodi’s life was solved by two simple things: a boy pursuing her and her wearing a pair of heels. In an age where teenagers are writing hundreds of pages of fan fiction online to feel a sense of belonging while living in a world that provides them with none, or becoming increasingly involved in political discourse despite the apathy and/or cynicism of the generations that came before them, we’re still given these stories that don’t resonate with us or our struggles.
As a concept, Tall Girl is mediocre but not without its potential. This could have been a movie that opened up a conversation on how unrealistic beauty standards and body image struggles affect teenagers from all communities and walks of life—even rich, able-bodied white ones. This could have been a movie that shone a spotlight on different types of people and their relationships with their bodies. It’s vastly disappointing that such an important, pervasive topic was ultimately limited to the scope of a blonde white girl’s obsessive parents and her size 13 Nikes.
Throughout the movie, Jodi’s entire personality was centered on her obsession with her height and her constant disregard for everyone else’s struggles, making her unlikeable and difficult to sympathise with. Should we really be telling young people that it’s okay to hurt and dismiss the people we love (and who love us) as long as it contributes to our journey of temporary self-acceptance?
Self-love and self-image is such a widespread issue amongst teens and young people, regardless of who they are or where they come from. Movies like Tall Girl portray their protagonists giving themselves easy, shallow fixes to “loving yourself” that are nothing more than emblems of faux positivity. These stories seem to portray positivity, but they fail to grasp the depth and nuances of true positivity in grappling with these issues.
In a world of equal opportunities, I would feel a lot better about these mediocre coming-of-age movies, but that just isn’t the world we live in. For so long, doors have been closed to female and/or non-white filmmakers and other marginalized creatives. Even today those doors remain closed unless these are the stories they’re willing to tell. The only arguably worthwhile result of Tall Girl is to show how tired viewers are of seeing the same old story play out with the same old characters. While this may have been the norm over the last twenty years, it’s no longer realistic to expect a white man in his 40s to be able to accurately and honestly write a teenage girl protagonist. There is an abundance of fresh young talent lining up for a chance to tell their stories, and it is time they were given a seat at the table.
Film is a universal medium and there are no limits to what you can do with it. The coming-of-age genre may have its flaws, but there’s no denying its importance in film culture. The widespread conversation that Tall Girlhas sparked is a repetition of existing critiques, but oddly enough, the fact that passionate dissatisfaction with the status quo only seems to be growing even more passionate, gives me hope for the future of filmmaking.
By: Mawadah Nofal
Edited By: Melissa Lee