“You don’t deserve this.” “You got lucky.” “You think you can actually pull this off?” Do these words sound familiar to you? Admittedly, these words are from your worst bully. And that bully is none other than yourself. Self-doubts. We can all relate to those. To this haunting voice that shows up and holds us hostage from the greatness we don’t realize we are capable of. This is the theme of “Tall Girl 2,” which was released on Netflix on Feb. 11.
“Tall Girl” tells the story of Jodi (Ava Michelle), a high school student who grew up getting bullied because of her height (which is 6 ft. 2 inches, to be exact). For this reason, she has always tried to lay low. Longing for “some taller-than-[her], funny, intelligent, nice, perfect guy” of a boyfriend, she never considered giving a chance to her loyal, good-looking childhood friend Dunk (Griffin Gluck), who’s been in love with her since forever. Following a disastrous affair with who she thought to be her ideal boyfriend (Luke Eisner), and getting openly ridiculed by him and her bullies Kimmy (Clara Wilsey) and Schnipper (Rico Paris), Jodi finally came to the realization that all she ever needed was within herself. At the end of the movie, she walked into prom night wearing shiny high heels and gave a public self-love pep talk. In turn, she went to find Dunk (who had hoped she would eventually fall for him) and discovered the milk crate he’d been carrying as a school bag for years was actually meant for him to stand on so that he could be taller than her when they ultimately kissed. As cringy as it is… can it get any more romantic?
This being said, “Tall Girl 2” brings forth a reborn Jodi. No more slouching, she is now walking through the hallway with her head held high, overflowing with assertiveness. She trades her discreet clothing for some that pops, and leaves her sporty ponytail behind for a more feminine style. In this sequel, she even takes a shot at auditioning for the school musical – which has been her dream since middle school. The good news is: she gets the lead. The bad news is: she is slowly falling down a path of tremendous self-destruction. Jodi’s entourage is so supportive of her: her parents keep on inviting as many people as they can to attend their daughter’s play. They also suggest Jodi would do a Juilliard theater summer program and want to hire a professional videographer for the show. As Jodi struggles to find balance through her break-up with Dunk, to believe in her own skills and to deal with her sister moving away to Los Angeles, even well-intentioned support ends up being the smothering last straw that triggers an anxiety attack.
Paradoxically, it is only once she succeeds at something – namely landing a role in the musical, that Jodi starts doubting herself. A change of lighting can even be noticed (from bright to gloomy) in a scene when she walks through the school hallway after her anxiety about the performance starts to kick in. This comes as a witty, parallel contrast with the scene mentioned before, when Jodi did not lack confidence. On a side note, every time Jodi is subject to anxiety, her sight gets distorted. This is a crafty element used to show that what one sees when they’re in deceptive doubt is nothing but a twisted version of the truth.
Commonly, it is expected that accomplishment would get you to actually gain confidence. However, in Jodi’s case, it marks the birth of a voice that, as described by Harper, our main character’s sister (Sabrina Carpenter), “makes you believe your worst fears and insecurities are true.” Jodi comes a long way from the person she was in the first movie. She doesn’t feel upset when she gets comments about her height anymore. She even dates a guy shorter than her, which definitely did not fit her “perfect boyfriend checklist” back when she let society dictate what she can and cannot do. And yet, she is still easy prey for toxic thoughts.
Like Jodi, I have often felt like everyone around me had their lives figured out, while I was stumbling through my own. But the thing is: no one is put together. As Anjelika Washington, who plays Jodi’s best-friend, recently said in an interview for Pop Culture Planet, “Everyone goes through these moments of self-doubt.” We all just try our best, which, for some, results in a confident front. Rightly so, Harper and Kimmy are the embodiments of the strong queen bee. When they disclose that they too have “that voice,” viewers get to understand that even seemingly self-assured people aren’t immune to insecurities. Male characters allude to the “voice” as well, proving that self-doubt is an issue that people of all genders face.
Speaking of men, “Tall Girl 2” presents a new male character in the ensemble. Tommy (Jan Luis Castellanos), Jodi’s fellow classmate, was there, somewhere in the crowd, when she made her breakthrough speech on homecoming night in the predecessor movie. This was such a smart move, introducing a character who demonstrates that, sometimes, while you are challenging your own fears, you might accidentally be inspiring someone else. Tommy is your typical attractive, fit, confident guy. He’s talented too, which causes him to get the male lead in the play. Thus, when he opens up about his own insecurities, Jodi finds it hard to believe. Even when “you’ve been judged your whole life based on your appearance,” you are not unlikely to unknowingly do the same to others, huh Jodi? As a matter of fact, Tommy used to have weight insecurities that stuck with him even after he’d gotten the weight off. It sure is gripping that, no matter how much one can visually seem to have it all, some experiences – in this instance, body concerns – “just get hardwired in our brains” until they shape “who we are and how we think.”
Subsequently to “Tall Girl,” where bullying came mostly from external forces, the sequel dives headfirst into a universal issue – one of self-critique, that is. This follow-up movie conveys that, even when one starts realizing their worth and nurturing their self-confidence, it is only the beginning of the journey. Jodi’s speech at the end of the prior installment was only the first step. So, if the franchise had ended there, would that have been telling the whole story?
With an upbeat original soundtrack that carries the message of the movie, “Tall Girl 2” manages to address imposter syndrome in a way that’s intelligible to audiences — including both teens and adults. What looks like a teen movie at first glance actually targets an ageless demographic. The takeaway of director Emily Ting is that “there is no worse bully than the one that you create in your own head.” We could all use healthy indicators that tell us we are enough just as we are, reminding us of our inner light. And remember: you “shine bright like the stars.”
“Tall Girl 2” is now streaming on Netflix.