I'm the exact opposite of the target audience for Netflix's latest teen rom-com, Tall Girl—I'm a Short Man™.
Having been lucky enough to miss all the initial controversy surrounding the trailer, I had the chance to watch Tall Girl with relatively fresh eyes. The only thing I knew going in was that there would be a scene wherein the tall girl kisses a short boy who stands on a milk crate, which admittedly is the exact kind of scene that makes me want to lobotomize myself. But then again, how could I resist a movie that depicts a relationship between a short man and a tall girl? That's peak body positivity, and I am all about body positivity.
So here we go.
Tall Girl follows Jodi Kreyman, a 16-year-old girl who stands at a whopping 6'1", which actually isn't that tall. Yet, Jodi is the victim of constant bullying, as other high schoolers seem to delight in saying, "HOW'S THE WEATHER UP THERE?" ad nauseum. The movie goes out of its way to portray Jodi as some sort of horrendous she-cretin—except the girl they cast, Ava Michelle, is actually a model.
When we first meet Jodi, she's shy and insecure, the kind of girl whose style consists of sweatshirts and no makeup (omg, the horror). The only boy who likes her is Dunkelman, a short loser who pursues her relentlessly with lame pick-up lines and carries a milk crate everywhere, which, as I had learned prior to watching, was always intended for tonsil hockey. I'll come back to Dunkelman later.
Then Stig Mohlin, a tall, strong-jawed foreign exchange student played by a guy who seems to be aiming for the "World's Worst Impression of a Swedish Guy Award," comes to school, and he's the man of Jodi's dreams. "But how can an ugly, disgusting, tall girl like Jodi possible win Stig over?!?" the movie asks. Easy. Give her a makeover (read: makeup and nice clothes), causing everybody in school to fall in love with her. That's basically it. Jodi revamps her appearance, smooches Stig (and also a really gross "popular" guy who bullied her), and then decides that short, lame Dunkelman was really the perfect guy for her all along. Cue milk carton kiss.
Without retreading all the initial outrage over Tall Girl (which mostly feels undeserved), I'll just say that the premise is ridiculously silly. While I have no doubt that most tall girls experience derogatory comments about their height at some point in their lives, making a body positive movie about a tall girl who is rich and attractive seems...empty. Like, there is a job niche specifically for tall, attractive girls, and it's called being an actual supermodel. If you're going to do a body positive movie, make a real body positive movie about someone whose social status can't necessarily be changed just by putting on makeup.
For once, I'd like to see a body positive movie about someone who is actually unattractive and genuinely learns to love themselves, instead of just conforming to mainstream beauty standards and suddenly becoming a social butterfly. That would be body positive.
But ultimately, Tall Girl would be just another forgettable, harmless teen romp if it weren't for...you guessed it...Dunkelman.
Dunkelman is standing on a crate.Netflix
Dunkelman is a f*cking mess. The movie tries to paint him as a great guy who genuinely loves Jodi and totally deserves her affection, but this kid is a total creep. He spends every morning coming onto a girl who verbally rejects him multiple times. He attempts to sabotage her relationships with other guys. He tells Jodi she shouldn't marry a tall guy because having a big baby would result in a "Caesarean." He enters her room while she's sleeping and brushes her hair. He destroys his own social status by carrying around a milk crate, solely because he intends to use it to kiss a girl who, again, does not want him.
Whereas the movie treats Jodi like a real high school girl, Dunkelman is written like a joke. When he's not being a possessive lunatic, he's crashing his bicycle into cars and being pathetic. Amazingly, and totally in spite of the writing, Dunkelman still manages to come off as likable. This is entirely thanks to the actor, Griffin Gluck (American Vandal), who brings innate charm to a deeply problematic role. But Dunkelman's terrible character arc and total lack of boundaries and self-respect can't be overlooked. In a movie dedicated to body positivity, I would expect short men would be treated a little more carefully.
Of course, at the end of the day, this isn't a serious movie or a particularly well thought out one. It's light and generic and mostly harmless. Maybe one day we'll get a body positivity movie that sets the bar just a little bit higher.
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