I know what you’re thinkin’. How did a guy like me land a girl like her? We get this all the time…I’ve always had a crush on her, but society has deemed it social unacceptable for a tall girl to date a short guy.
-Dunkleman, “Tall Girl 2”
So begins the second entry in the Tall Girl Saga, one of the innumerable teen film series bestowed upon us by data-mining corporate overlord Netflix. There are two major Netflix releases this week. And yes, I am covering the one that is clearly more important to cinephiles everywhere (get bodied Jean-Pierre Jeunet). Sometimes, you just have to give the people what they want.
At the end of the last Tall Girl, Jodi (Ava Michelle) and her men’s size thirteen Nikes delivered an impassioned speech at homecoming about the merits of being your true (tall) self. That’s before she ran off to find the one, true love of her life—short king Dunkleman (Griffin Gluck). And with him comes the milk crate that he’s been carrying around for years in the hopes of using it as a platform to kiss Jodi. Finally, Jodi has found the courage to “stand tall.”
Alas! The world of Tall Girl 2 is different than the world of Tall Girl 1 (the milk crate did not survive to the sequel). Now, Jodi is extremely popular; her speech crystalizing her reputation as a vibrant member of her school community. Filled with confident that she never had before, Jodi is determined to try out for the lead in the school musical—a production of Bye Bye Birdie. This has a detrimental effect on Dunkleman, who feels Jodi slipping away from him. Thus, he calls her out during a lavishly prepared three-month anniversary dinner, which leads the couple to a pseudo-breakup.
Enter: the love triangle. In the grand tradition of other Netflix original teen series (To All the Boys; The Kissing Booth), Tall Girl 2 adds in a secondary love interest for the sake of drama! As Jodi and Dunkleman fall apart, Jodi winds up closer to fellow Bye Bye Birdie lead: Tommy Torres (Jan Luis Castellanos). This drives a wedge between Jodi and Dunkleman. The latter then spends a ton of time with villain-turned-comic relief character Steig (Luke Eisner). And their third wheel is his “there’s no way she’s actually Swedish” sister Stella (Johanna Liauw).
This gets us to roughly the midpoint of the film, and misses about half of the other subplots found within Tall Girl 2. There’s a theory a friend of mine has about these Netflix original teen films. That they are designed in a manner that undermines the idea of a traditional narrative structure, but not for the better. Normally, most Hollywood productions follow a taut narrative structure of cause and effect. Largely, this is the difference between Hollywood and European Art Cinemas: the former rigidly adheres to a tradition of action and reaction.
This isn’t to say that the filmmakers behind Tall Girl 2 made it in the same vein as Antonioni picture, but rather, is to point out that scenes don’t seem to connect to each other. It’s as if Netflix meant this to act as a form of guerilla marketing. Whole scenes are not constructed with the narrative in mind; instead, they’re constructed to exist in two-minute clip format on YouTube. Nowhere is this more apparent than whatever is happening with Luke Eisner’s Steig in this film. The film designs most of his scenes to end on a beat, as if they they can easily edit him for marketing purposes.
I think it would be an understatement to suggest that the first Tall Girl film was disastrously received. For weeks, people made jokes lampooning Jodi’s opening narration. In particular, people were mocking her assertions. That if “you think your life is hard” then you should try walking a mile in her “men’s size thirteen Nikes”. However, there was a visceral anger at the film on the part of some. How dare they suggest that this affluent, beautiful, young white girl could have any problems whatsoever? To my eye, this has always felt a little bit like cherry-picking an easy target. At least to me, there’s something far more insidious about other movies. For example, the way Captain Marvel acts as an arm of the propaganda machine for the United States Military. That’s less tolerable than the way that Tall Girl dopily sets up the myopia of Jodi’s worldview.
Unfortunately, Tall Girl 2 seems determined to respond to the “haters”. It’s a risible choice under any circumstances, but one made doubly so by how it’s presented in the film. Roughly ten minutes in, Jodi’s audition ends with a monologue which spells out the film’s ethos. No, Jodi is not really that oppressed, but being tall sucks, dammit. And you best believe that we’re not apologizing for any of the film.
This is another scene which feels designed solely for the purposes of marketing; its punctual point provided alongside a plinking piano score. There, Jodi’s light canary yellow sweater accentuates the deep navy blue in the background. If there’s one thing I can say about the Tall Girl franchise, it is that, at least aesthetically speaking, there seems to be some real, intentional set design.
Many of the shots in this film feature complex colour palettes, yet the film undermines almost all of these shots by the peculiarity of the film’s lighting choices. It’s a strange denigration in 2022 to say that a film looks like television. That’s because the nature of streaming has made it so that everything looks like the same replicated “content”. However, this film has strange beams pouring the frame at awkward angles, which makes removes the illusion of reality. Frankly, light doesn’t look like it should in Tall Girl 2.
I come back to the film’s opening monologue, which suggests that society has deemed Jodi and Dunkleman’s love as unacceptable, as it provides a microcosm of the Tall Girl franchise. It’s a functionally correct statement, but also, if they really love each other, then who cares? Throughout Tall Girl 2, Jodi seems determined to not care about being “tall” anymore. This frustratingly suggests that the ways the film could shift its priorities. But Tall Girl 2 itself isn’t ready to remove that moniker yet, because if it did, then what would she have left?
- Release Date: 2/12/2022