A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this coming-of-age drama takes place at a girls' boarding school where the central teen characters deal with issues of sexuality, depression, and suicidal behavior. There are lots of sexual overtones to the film, including a couple of sex scenes, some kisses, and brief nudity in a shower scene (a girl's breasts are shown briefly before she hides); also, two girls are shown in a bath together and kiss for a moment. Two of the relationships are between a married man and a high-school senior (one is consummated, the other stalls at overt flirting). Language is on the tame end for an R rating, but there's some underage alcohol and drug use (marijuana and cigarettes). Amidst all the iffy stuff, the movie does have some positive messages about unconditional friendship and making painful decisions.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Fernanda (Rooney Mara) returns to New England boarding school TANNER HALL for her senior year, where she's joined by a childhood friend she hasn't seen in more than a decade, Victoria (Georgia King). Fernanda's two best friends, Lucasta (Amy Ferguson) and Kate (Brie Larson), instantly take a shine to the charming and devious Victoria, who encourages them all to commit an expellable offense. On top of dealing with Victoria's manipulative ways, the trio of besties each has sexual awakenings: Fernanda falls in love with married father-to-be Gio (Tom Everett Scott), Kate flirts shamelessly with her married English professor (Chris Kattan), and Lucasta struggles with her identity when her Townie guy-pal (Shawn Pyfrom) tries to make their relationship romantic.
Is it any good?
This movie is uneven and unsatisfying. Despite its 2011 release date, Tanner Hall was actually shot in 2009; it's one of those low-budget indie films that makes the film-festival circuit and then lies on a dusty shelf without distribution. That is, until director David Fincher cast Mara as Lisbeth Salander in his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation. Voila, a studio picks up this boarding-school drama and releases it to capitalize on the other movie's buzz. The problem is, of course, that watching Mara in this is a bit jarring after her nuanced work in Fincher's universally acclaimed The Social Network or as fierce and furious Lisbeth. Here, Mara is in total ingenue mode, and while she's fine, we all know at this point that she deserves more.
The movie feels like exactly what it is: a labor of love between two directors who themselves are intimately acquainted with the world of privilege and intimacy that the characters inhabit. Tatiana von Furstenberg is a titled princess and the daughter of fashion designer Diane, and Francesca Gregorini is also a moneyed daughter of aristocracy (and the stepdaughter of Ringo Starr). So although the movie's atmosphere seems just right and the girls are all played by talented actresses, there's no real cohesive thread to the film. The only subplots that grab viewers are straight laced Fernanda's seemingly out-of-character affair with all-too-willing Gio, and, most notably, Lucasta's sexual identity struggles (Ferguson is vulnerable and sweet). Amy Sedaris and Kattan pop up for some comic relief as a sex-starved married couple, but they're so cartoonish (especially Sedaris) that it's hard to take them seriously. All of these loose threads and subplots would have worked in a primetime teen drama, but it doesn't work for a film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the teen relationships depicted in the film. Did you find the girls' friendships relatable? Would you consider any of the characters to be role models?
How was sexuality portrayed in the movie? Which of the girls had healthy romantic relationships?
What are some other well-known boarding-school movies? Do the ones featuring all boys' schools differ in scope? How?
- In theaters: September 9, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: December 13, 2011
- Cast: Brie Larson, Georgia King, Rooney Mara
- Directors: Francesca Gregorini, Tatiana von Furstenberg
- Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexual content including brief nudity and some drug use
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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