When a dashing Swedish exchange student named Stig (Luke Eisner) comes to town, Jodi tries her best to win his affection, ignoring her best friends, Fareeda (Anjelika Washington) and Dunkleman (Griffin Gluck), in the process. Sadly, Dunkleman is madly in love with Jodi, who dismisses him as too short to date.
You might already have been aware of this movie’s existence if you spend a lot of time online, given that its main conflict became a joke on social media after Netflix released the trailer last month. Michelle, who plays the title character, is a trained dancer who is tall and blonde in the way that supermodels are often tall and blonde. In the trailer, Jodi’s mother, played by “The Office” alum Angela Kinsey, tells her teenage daughter that she has to be “strong in the face of adversity.”
It should be noted that, as director Nzingha Stewart said in response to the backlash, there are a lot of teenagers out there who are uncomfortable with their height, and their feelings are valid. But “Tall Girl” highlights Jodi’s insecurities in a manner so blatantly lacking in self-awareness that watching it sometimes feels like a fever dream — or, at the very least, like someone built a bot to write a high school movie but replaced all of the protagonist’s usual characteristics with “tall.”
Consider one of the first things we hear Jodi say: “You think your life is hard? I’m a high school junior wearing size 13 Nikes. Men’s Nikes. Beat that.” She proceeds to complain some more to Fareeda, an underused character and one who, as a black teenager who defied her parents to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer instead of a doctor, could probably beat that.
Teenagers can be oblivious to struggles outside of their own, but “Tall Girl” forgoes exploring that angle and spends the bulk of the movie trying to elicit sympathy for Jodi in increasingly bizarre ways. She is jealous of her older sister, beauty queen Harper (Sabrina Carpenter), who was “spared the tall gene” but is taken down a peg by her severe allergies. Jodi also finds it difficult to connect with her parents: a mother who says she was unpopular “because I was so beautiful” and a father (Steve Zahn) whose best attempt at quelling his daughter’s anxiety involves inviting home dozens of tall people who wear matching outfits and belong to a club for tall people called the Tip Toppers.
Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the film, though, is that it gives almost as much weight to the big reveal of why Dunkleman carries his belongings around in a milk crate, instead of a backpack, as it does to the climax of Jodi’s emotional journey. I won’t reveal the reason, but believe me when I say it might make you squirm as much as Stig’s proud admission of having performed in the musical “Cats.” (He says this during a conversation in which Jodi tells him that she quit playing the piano because she was ashamed of having long fingers, a valuable asset for piano players.)
In one of “Tall Girl’s” more lucid moments, Jodi claims that when you’re as tall as she is, “it’s the only thing people see.” Unfortunately, even the movie itself fails to find meaning past its unusual premise.