Few friendships are more intimate than those between teenage girls. Especially those between teenage girls at boarding school.
Tanner Hall spins the tale of Fernanda’s (Rooney Mara) senior year at Tanner Hall, a picturesque boarding school in New England, where a painfully obnoxious yet charismatic childhood acquaintance, Victoria (Georgia King) enrolls. She brings with her enough tension to compromise Fernanda’s bond with her friends, Kate (Brie Larsen), a Lolita-esque siren clueless to the power of her sexuality, and Lucasta (Amy Ferguson), a tomboy questioning her desires.
Upon returning to school, Fernanda develops a complicated relationship with an older family friend’s husband, Gio (Tom Everett Scott). Between shopping for records and teaching her to drive a stick shift in an empty orchard, Gio’s approach to romance is reminiscent of montages found in films like (500) Days of Summer, where love blossoms out of mutually quirky interests.
Instantly envious of Fernanda’s growing relationship, Victoria tirelessly plots to reveal Fernanda’s role as a mistress to a married man, in hopes of publicly humiliating her. While Victoria calculates, it’s clear her inclination to destroy Fernanda’s reputation stems from a splintered relationship with her own mother who seems to have dumped Victoria at Tanner Hall, absolving her of any maternal responsibilities.
Kate and Lucasta are soon also faced with adult decisions of their own. As Head Masters the Middlewoods (played by an awkwardly cast but surprisingly refreshing Chris Kattan and Amy Sedaris) struggle to salvage their sex life, Mr. Middlewood embarrassingly pines for Kate, who basks in schadenfreude as she shamelessly teases the professor. When Mr. Middlewood confronts Kate, she backs away horrified, her radiating sexuality totally unbeknownst to her.
After refusing the advances of a pizza delivery boy, Lucasta comes to the realization she isn’t like the other girls at Tanner Hall, who pine for a prince charming. As the film concludes, its clear Lucasta is beginning to identify as a lesbian as she smiles at another girl who shares the same interest in comic books.
Tanner Hall provides the backdrop for four very different girls cautiously toeing the line between adolescence and adulthood. Other than being enrolled in the same boarding school, their fleeting girlhood is the only tie that binds them. Although each character is faced situations they won’t fully realize the enormity of until years later, there’s a certain hollowness that permeates the film, almost as if these performances lack the authenticity that would make a bold affair with an older married man/tempting a teacher/discovering sexuality believable.
Visually, the film is a smorgasbord of stimulation. Every scene appears to be doused with sunlight and passed through an Instagram filter to make every actor seem a little more interesting than what they’ve actually portrayed.
While engaging at times and cinematically breathtaking throughout, the performances in Tanner Hall fail to deliver the genuineness girlhood friendships rely on.