There’s a girl—a main character in this Netflix Original. She’s not like other girls, though. Other girls wear makeup and dress nice. This girl? She wears sweatshirts, and, even more scandalous, sweatpants. She faces constant ridicule from her classmates. Her family tries their best to make her feel normal, but instead, they make her feel even more ostracized.
“You think your life is hard?” she asks. She’s conventionally attractive, except for one thing. “I’m a high school junior wearing size thirteen Nikes. Mens size thirteen Nikes.”
Yeah. She’s the tall girl.
Creatively named, Tall Girl outlines the story of Jodi, who is six–foot–one. As if we don’t have enough movies featuring a white blonde who lives in the suburbs, especially from Netflix.
However, this is not to say that tall women don’t face any adversity. It's often more difficult for tall women to buy clothing, for example. And if this movie was illuminating real struggles that tall girls face—or was even empowering in the slightest—perhaps it could be redeemable. Instead, this movie is unforgivably cringey, cliché, and promotes problematic ideals towards its young audience.
The movie opens with a scene where a random male student and Jodi begin talking about the themes of a book. It’s clear that it’s getting a little flirty, and at the end of the conversation, the guy is about to ask Jodi out. Mid–sentence, Jodi stands up, and he realizes how tall she is. He looks as if he’s seen a ghost. He says, “Um, never...never mind” and backs away.
And yes, tall women are sometimes disadvantaged in the world of heterosexual dating. A 2008 study found that 50% of men want their partners to be shorter than them. However, this scene is just the beginning of the movie establishing male approval as the central goal in a teenage girl’s life.
Prior to achieving the capstone of male approval, the movie introduces Jodi’s best friend, Fareeda: the epitome of the “black female friend” stereotype. She enters the scene wearing obscenely bright headphones and dancing through the hallway of students who are not dancing. She then enters into her role as “mentor”, another facet of the black friend stereotype, when she chastises Jodi for being self–deprecating. Then, a random student says “how’s the weather up there”, and she enters into another dimension of the trope: sassy black girl. She immediately forces this guy into apologizing to Jodi and monologues about how he’s “chipping away” at both of their souls. At the end of this scene, Fareeda proclaims, “no slouching!” and randomly raises the black power symbol.
It’s unfair that in a movie made in 2019, the tall (white) girl gets to be a character with depth and real feelings, but the black girl is reduced to just being the “friend” with a collage of stereotypes. While the white girl is humanized for being “tall,” the black girl is not even her own person.
In order to further humanize the “tall girl”, the movie promotes harmful stereotypes about “pretty girls.” Her sister, Harper, who has participated in six beauty pageants, does nothing but be pretty. In one scene, she is throwing knives at a printout of another contestant’s face. While Jodi is portrayed as smart, Harper is portrayed as a petty, vindictive airhead.
The onslaught continues with the introduction of another cliché: the mean girl. Kimmy is introduced as yet another girl who dresses nicer than Jodi, wears makeup, and is cruel to her. She organizes a prank call where the hot foreign exchange student, Stig, asks Jodi to prom, but in reality, it’s just a joke. Obviously, some girls are bullies and some of these girls happen to be pretty or wear makeup. But Tall Girl suggests the central trait of girls who are into makeup or fashion is their meanness.
The movie pits these girls against each other in a competition for Stig. But at first, it’s not even just them: the whole school is involved. In the lunchroom, a barrage of girls sit around him at lunch, competing for a moment of his attention. In the end, Kimmy wins, establishing herself as the “queen” of the school. Yet again, male validation is the pinnacle of a girl’s life.
In response to Stig joining their class, Jodi asks Harper for advice. She suggests dressing better and wearing makeup. First, this movie is becoming hypocritical: Is it bad to wear makeup or not? Second, this is extremely problematic: the movie is suggesting that in order to be more palatable to a boy, Jodi should completely change her appearance. During the “makeover,” Harper even says, “fixing you is a two person job.”
Later, Stig and Jodi have a moment in a piano room, which is, of course, interrupted by Kimmy. Still he invites her over, and eventually, they make out, despite the fact that he’s dating Kimmy. Obviously, this is evidence that he’s not worth either of the girls’ time. Despite this, Jodi is super validated by this date, and she goes to school with makeup and nicer clothes on. A boy who used to bully her tells Kimmy that she “looks good” now. Fareeda says that she “likes the new Jodi,” because this Jodi is more confident.
It’s extremely problematic that Tall Girl conflates conforming to societal norms and becoming confident. It’s not okay that everyone suddenly views her as beautiful after this change, and this idea is never critiqued throughout the movie. Women should choose if they want to wear makeup, and they shouldn’t be judged for their choice. Women definitely shouldn’t have to change what makes them comfortable for the sake of attracting a man.
Jodi eventually ends things with Stig. But she still has one hope left for obtaining male validation: a guy named Dunkleman who has been in love with her since elementary school. Dunkleman is pretty cringey. First of all, he’s literally referred to as Dunkleman, and he carries his stuff around in a milk crate instead of a backpack. Unfortunately, his male approval isn’t valuable to her because he’s shorter than Jodi.
When she eventually settles for dating Dunkleman, the movie doesn’t take this as an opportunity to show that, as a woman, you don’t have to be shorter than the guy that you’re dating. Instead, it reveals why he has been carrying around a milk crate. When he finally got to kiss Jodi, he could stand on it, and be taller than her.
By 2019, coming–of–age movies shouldn’t be riddled with stereotypes and problematic themes. Teenage girls are already insecure, and this movie only further legitimizes these insecurities. It doesn’t tell girls that they are okay the way they are. Rather, it encourages girls to change themselves until they fit the mold of what a boy, and society, thinks is beautiful.