Every once in a while, a movie comes along with a premise so good that it is more-or-less a success right out of the gate. Jan de Bont’s Speed, for example, was a masterpiece the moment its hero discovered that the passenger bus he was on couldn’t go below 50 miles per hour or it would trigger a lethal bomb. Christopher Nolan’s Inception solidified its status as a bonafide Good Movie simply by virtue of it being about dream warfare, as did Ridley Scott’s Alien when he pitched it to the studios as “Jaws in Space.” But occasionally, a movie will come along that has a premise so weak that it’s nearly impossible for it to redeem itself. This is the case with Netflix’s Tall Girl franchise, a series of films about a teenage girl who is…well, very tall.
Jodi Kreyman (Ava Michelle), the protagonist of both Tall Girl and its sequel, Tall Girl 2, has been plagued by exceptional height her whole life. She’s never had a boyfriend, she does just about everything she can think of to fly under the radar and just she can’t seem to walk down her high school hallway without some smartass asking her “How’s the weather up there?” While watching the first Tall Girl, I did my best to ignore the nagging feeling that this was truly a Netflix-has-run-out-of-ideas movie, and just enjoy it for what it is, which is essentially a by-the-books teen rom-com. After all, what is the teen outcast character, really, but a catalyst for a series of social faux pas and an eventual uplifting lesson in learning to love who you are?
And in the first Tall Girl, this pretense works well enough. The film follows a semester in the life of Jodi, whose world is turned upside down when Swedish exchange student Stig (Luke Eisner) arrives at her high school. Why is this such a big deal, you might ask? Yes, Stig is very dreamy. But more importantly, he’s also very tall. The film shows Jodi stepping out of her shell to chase Stig, and, surprise surprise, also learning to love herself along the way. It’s sappy, it’s inspirational and it’s easy to watch. But in Emily Ting’s Tall Girl 2, the bad premise problem sticks out like a sore thumb. The sequel picks up where the first one left off: With Jodi making an inspiring speech at homecoming, and subsequently deciding to own her height instead of being ashamed of it. Overnight (and between the two films), she became wildly popular, and is now dating her best friend Jack (Griffin Gluck), whom she’d previously turned down because he was too short.
This setup raises a not uncommon question: How do you make a sequel out of something that was never actually supposed to have a sequel, but earned enough money that a sequel became inevitable? Since Tall Girl 2’s predecessor had such a neat conclusion and resolution, it was always going to be extremely difficult to hide its nonsensical, thin premise (a movie about a girl who is tall) behind the guise of a traditional high school movie for a second time.
It seems, then, that Tall Girl 2 has nothing left to do but grasp at straws. And so Jodi’s other best friend Fareeda (Anjelika Washington) ends up selling some clothes she designed to a local retail shop, a story which causes conflict between her and her parents, but is ultimately never resolved or even really justified. Similarly, Fareeda and Stig start a relationship, which not only comes totally out of left field, but also feels like something that would happen in season eight of a soap opera when the show creators are starting to run out of ideas. Stig’s sister Stella (Johanna Liauw) visits town from Sweden, too, and her presence is never justified beyond my suspicion that the filmmakers simply wanted another addition to a quirky cast of characters whose options had already been exhausted.
In fact, the only storyline in Tall Girl 2 which actually makes sense is Jodi’s role as the lead in her school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie, and her increasing anxiety and self-doubt surrounding it. This storyline bodes well for the continuation of her insecure-to-confident arc (and I’m just gonna choose to ignore the fact that she is, randomly, an incredible dancer).
An unclear development of characters contributes to the film’s overall feeling of aimlessness. Suspension of disbelief has to be exercised pretty extensively to believe that a girl could go from so insecure that she hides in classrooms, to avoid being looked at in the hallway, to signing up for the lead role in her school musical overnight. And then there are the characters whose actions aren’t simply difficult to believe: They’re nonsensical. Stig, for example, flip-flops from wanting to be with Jodi, to wanting to be popular instead, to wanting to be with Fareeda, at a whiplash-inducing rate, suggesting that once he no longer served the single purpose of Jodi’s impetus for character development, he no longer served a purpose at all.
Often coming to the rescue, though, are Tall Girl 2’s performances. The always charming Gluck steals the show as the lovesick Jack, who wears his emotions on his sleeve, and whose comic timing is close to impeccable. Sabrina Carpenter, who plays Harper, Jodi’s beauty-pageant-veteran big sister, also nails it in the comedic department, performing a recurring bit, where she stares wistfully out of the window whenever she recalls a memory, to perfection. With a solid cast and decent predecessor, Tall Girl 2 could have been a compelling watch, if only it didn’t make the mistake of relying on a premise that the first one had to go to unreasonable lengths (or heights?) to disguise as something else.
Director: Emily Ting
Writers: Sam Wolfson
Stars: Ava Michelle, Sabrina Carpenter, Griffin Gluck, Steve Zahn
Release Date: February 11, 2022
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.