A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tall Girl is a comedy about fitting in that's set in high school, where the pressure to conform can be overwhelming. At six-foot-one, 16-year-old Jodi (Ava Michelle) literally will never "fit"; she's endured merciless teasing about her height since elementary school. The message she constantly hears from friends and family is to walk tall -- but it's hard to ignore the characteristic that's defined her self view and (she feels) doomed her to social oblivion. Friendship and family support are given high value here, as is the need to achieve self esteem. With its heart in the right place, the movie may speak to teens who feel marginalized, isolated, or even bullied, but watch out for too-easy answers to difficult questions. Teens kiss, a fight breaks out at a party (resulting in a black eye), and language includes "crap," "biatch," and "pissed."
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What's the story?
Jodi (Ava Michelle) is the title's TALL GIRL. At 16, she's an accomplished pianist and a bright student with a dry sense of humor (mostly directed at herself). Despite her gifts, she can't shake what has become the central and defining fact of her life: She's six-foot-one and a stand-out in exactly the way many adolescent girls don't want to be. Her best friend Fareeda (Anjelika Washington) encourages her to stop slouching, but Jodi stoops ahead, resigned. When Stig (Luke Eisner), a tall, handsome Swedish exchange student, appears at school, Jodi is instantly smitten -- as is every other girl in her grade. Jodi has spent years doing her best not to be seen, hiding behind sweatshirts and attire from men's shops, looking like a "very large little boy." Her sudden desire to be noticed by Stig brings her to beauty-contest-winning big sister Harper (Sabrina Carpenter) for advice on glamming up, a collaboration that creates new family loyalty and closeness. Stig, who has been snagged by Jodi's long-time tormenter Kimmy (Clara Wilsey), nevertheless takes to Jodi when they meet accidentally in a piano practice room where she plays for him. A sweet kiss follows -- and so does the guilt of pursuing a guy with a girlfriend, even an evil one like Kimmy. Jodi's short friend Dunkleman (Griffin Gluck) is jealous and tries to steer Stig away, which leads to awkwardness, misunderstandings, and a black eye. The rapid-fire highs and lows of the typical high school crush play out from there.
Is it any good?
This romcom will resonate with teens who feel different at a time in life when blending in is often the goal. It's a relatively impressive feature directorial debut for music video (Jay-Z, Kanye West) and TV (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) director Nzingha Stewart, despite some of the limitations of the script. Believability is one problem. Being unusually tall certainly might make a teen girl feel awkward, but the relentless mockery directed at Jodi would seem far more credible if she were closer to seven feet. These days, tall girls so dominate competitive sports and fashion runways that it seems counterintuitive to view them as an oppressed minority. A more credible alternate universe might just as easily admire Jodi for her stature.
Plus, long sequences of unending snark make every teen in school seem too clever, too mean, and too quick-witted. (In Mean Girls, at least a few were inarticulate dopes.) And then patches of Hallmark-esque sentimentality disrupt the established rhythm. Jodi's miraculous overnight self acceptance also somewhat upends the movie's previous 70 minutes of struggle, introspection, and smart remarks; teens know that self confidence rarely manifests so quickly. Still, fans of high school stories and romcoms are likely to overlook these quibbles. Watch for Tall Girl ’s truest, most understated scene -- a dad, feeling helpless, turns to music, which wordlessly allows him and his daughter to express their love for each other. Their problems don’t go away, and that's okay, which feels far truer than the cure-all ending.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about overcoming the destructiveness of self criticism. Why do you think some teens (and people of all ages) dwell on or emphasize the importance of their flaws above the value of their assets?
Why do you think high school can seem unforgiving of those who are a little bit different? How does that happen in Tall Girl?
Do you think when people grow older they become more tolerant of differences? Why do you think that might be?
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