Note: Contains spoilers for Tall Girl.
Tall Girl, Netflix’s latest entry into the teen rom-com genre, didn’t have the best of starts when its trailer got a kicking.
Any hint of a controversy was soon ruled out once we watched it, though, and realised it’s just another teen romcom, one that hits just about every cliché along the way. Panic over then. But still, there was one cliché we wish it had avoided.
Spoilers ahead, so look away now if you haven’t seen it (or watched the trailer – you can pretty much guess what happens).
Tall Girl is about Jodi, who struggles to fit in at high school and isolates herself because of her height.
Her best friend Jack is besotted with her but she won’t go out with him because he’s shorter, and Jack soon faces competition from the handsome (and tall) foreign exchange student Stig.
You guessed it, by the end of the movie, Jodi sees that Stig isn’t all he’s cracked up to be and her true love was by her side all the time: Jack.
The movie’s first misstep, before we even get into what makes Jack a particular brand of awful, is buying into a tiresome and toxic ‘friend zone’ trope.
By having Jack and Jodi get together at the end, Tall Girl sells the idea that, because you’re lifelong friends with a person, you deserve a romantic relationship with them.
It’s harmful and frankly misogynist because, ultimately, romance and sex aren’t something that you earn through good deeds – just because Jack has hung around for a long time doesn’t mean that Jodi owes him anything.
Suggesting so removes her agency and suggests that she doesn’t really know herself. The movie decides that how she feels deep down doesn’t really matter – because Jack filled the ‘perfect boyfriend’ metre (that she changed to suit him).
While we’re here, this attitude has a couple of other toxic implications. Namely, the idea that the only reason someone might be nice is because of the promise of sex.
Essentially, the ‘friend zone’ ideology says if it’s not going to lead to romance, what’s the point in being kind, or supportive, or a friend at all? At the end of the day, you’re a chump if you’re nice to a girl and she doesn’t sleep with you.
Shout out to Joey Tribbiani for really nailing this point for us way back in 1994.
So many films and shows do the ‘he was under your nose the whole time’ trick – and they’re all worse for it. At the end of the day it all plays into a ‘nice guys finish last’ victim mentality that sees plenty of (fictional and non-fictional) men blame women for not being attracted to them.
The core of the matter is at no point does anyone deserve to be in a relationship with anyone else. And that brings us back to Jack.
Because here’s the thing: Jack is actually awful.
It doesn’t even take until the end of the first scene with Jack to realise that alarm bells should be ringing for Jodi.
He cracks a cheesy chat-up line (using David Blaine, of all people) and gives her a smoothie he made her. So far, so weirdly obsessed, but not outright toxic. And then he comes up with this absolute corker.
“I just think it’s crazy you won’t go out with me just ’cause what? You think that at any moment some taller-than-you, funny, intelligent, nice, perfect guy is just gonna walk through that door? I mean, that’s, come on, that’s crazy,” he tells her.
Yeah, sure Jodi, why don’t you just settle? Honestly, what is wrong with you? The gag is that Stig walks in just as he’s saying this, but it doesn’t make what Jack says any better. It isn’t cute or quirky – it’s manipulative.
If he’s not saying that Jodi and Stig’s potential baby would be born “through the side door” (“that puppy’s coming out caesarean”), then he’s literally watching Jodi sleep and trying to touch her hair.
Jack even indulges in a bit of gaslighting when Jodi accuses him of sabotaging a potential relationship with Stig. We’ve seen Jack persuade Stig to stay with Jodi’s rival Kimmy, but he deflects when she says: “If you can’t have me, nobody can, isn’t that the idea?”
“Jodi, don’t flatter yourself,” he replies. “You may find this hard to believe, but I care about you and I just want to make sure that you don’t get hurt.”
He later apologises for his actions, but since this comes after the ‘watching her sleep’ thing, it could easily be seen as more manipulation.
But it seems that just because he gets punched by Stig at a pre-Homecoming party, that’s enough for Jodi to ignore all this and decide that Jack is the one.
Never mind that he carries around a milk crate to stand on to kiss Jodi because he “knew the day would come where I would need it”. Yeah, that’s not creepy at all.
Tall Girl had the chance to do something that too few rom-coms do. When faced with the choice, Jodi could have chosen herself, strengthening the movie’s idea that “you should like you, we’re all good enough”.
Alas, it seems that a personal journey wasn’t enough for Jodi – she had to pair up with a creep too.
Tall Girl is now available to watch on Netflix.