To many, being tall isn't an difference worthy of a teen movie. Most people, especially the ones who aren't taller than average, see height as being a gift. Sure, being tall most certainly has its advantages. But much of that appreciation for your height doesn't exist when you're 15/16 years old. Netflix's newest teen offering, Tall Girl, tackles those feelings pretty openly and accurately.
Tall Girl tells the story of Jodi (Ava Michelle,) a teenage girl who is 6'1". She is surrounded by a cast of average sized people, including her parents and her beauty queen sister (Sabrina Carptenter.) Her best friend Fareeda oozes confidence and encourages Jodi to be herself and "stand tall" but it's not as easy as it sounds. Jodi has no choice but to "stand tall." Her other best friend, Jack Dunkleman (Griffin Gluck) (who is often referred to by his last name) is madly in love with her, even though he's significantly shorter than her.
All Jodi wants is for a boy who's taller than her to like her. But when you're 6'1" and in high school, that's practically impossible. Enter Swedish foreign exchange student Steig (Luke Eisner,) the boy of Jodi's dreams. He's gorgeous, but most importantly, he's tall. But before Jodi can even consider making a move, her biggest tormentor and most popular girl in school, Kimmy swoops in and steals Stieg away.
Moms.com got the chance to sit down with the teen cast and talk about what it was like filming the movie, and being able to stand out in a time when all you want is to blend in.
"People are like, 'oh my god that's so amazing you're tall!' And growing up, I was like, 'why?'" says star Ava Michelle, who is actually 6'1".
"I don't think people realize how awkward you feel when you're younger and you're walking into a room and people are like, a foot shorter than you," she adds.
The film's school scenes excellently capture exactly what Ava Michelle is talking about. As Jodi walks down the halls, she is subjected to stares and whispers. As if she isn't already painfully aware of her own height and how she takes up space. Multiple times she's asked, "how's the weather up there?" again, as if it's the first time she's ever heard that joke.
Tall Girl also does a really good job at pointing out the subtleties of how we treat taller girls and taller boys differently. Jodi is regarded as a freak, while Steig is treated like a god. During our interview, Luke Eisner took a good natured ribbing when he tried to speak about the challenges of being a taller guy. But all he could come up with was that he had to hunch over when dancing with shorter girls. "I have a bad back to this day!" he complained, sending everyone into a chorus of giggles. "Someone needs to make a movie about this," Ava teased.
Because it's still a teen movie at it's core, Tall Girl features a really fun love triangle. Jodi's best friend Dunkleman's family is Steig's host family, so they're being forced together. But as Dunkleman realizes Jodi's growing affections for Steig, his resentment for the "hot" Swede only grows. But why is Dunkleman so in love with Jodi, even though she's so much taller? A lot of short guys like girls who are taller than them. As Griffin Gluck explains, "it's an obstacle" for short guys to win over the tall girl. But when you're the tall girl, as we see through Jodi, your insecurities won't allow you to believe that you're worthy of affection from a guy shorter than you. Without giving away too much, in the end, Jodi figures out which boy is really meant for her though.
But school isn't the only place where Jodi feels uncomfortable in her own body. Jodie's parents, so expertly played by Angela Kinsey and Steve Zahn mean well. But as two average sized people, they have no idea how to help their daughter. Jodie's dad is obsessed with finding ways for his daughter to not be tall. You see flashbacks of young Jodie sitting in a doctor's office as her dad asks she be given something to stop her from growing. His discomfort with her height is palpable. But you can also see that he just wants her to be able to move through the world with confidence.
The thing is though, that Jodi's confidence comes from being seen as who she is. Yes, she's a tall girl, but she's more than just her height. And everyone, her family and friends included, only see her height. Steig's arrival forces Jodi to really look at herself and see beyond what everyone else sees. Tall Girl is certainly a film about love, but not in the cheesy happily ever after kind of way. Self-love is the first step to acceptance.
When we asked the cast what they would tell their teenage selves, Ava Michelle's response sounds like something her character needs to hear. "I am the way that I am for a reason and to always believe in that and not let anyone tell me that I can't or try to change me."
Tall Girl is available now for streaming on Netflix.