Adolescence is a time of new awakenings, growing into one’s identity, taking the first tottering steps into adulthood – and making very, very poor decisions. Because the main plot of Tanner Hall focuses on a four teenage girls who attend a boarding school in New England, a series of poor decisions move the plotline forward, if somewhat predictably.
First there is Victoria (Georgia King), the troublemaker with a dangerous streak and an obsession with death – a more subtle version of Angelina Jolie’s character in Girl, Interrupted. She makes most of the poor decisions that get the girls into trouble, including stealing the key to the dormitory and getting the crew to sneak out via social manipulation and a couple of well placed lies.
Fern (Rooney Mara) comes across as the good girl, but she’s been doing something very bad. Her poor decision is that she’s been fooling around with a married man whose wife is her mother’s good friend. Oops.
When Victoria arrives on campus with her mother, who bears a strong resemblance to and is about as cuddly as Cruella de Vil, she is introduced to Fern by Fern’s mother, who asks her daughter to take the sulking Victoria into her group of friends. Fern and Victoria get along like oil and water; Victoria thinks Fern is a humorless goody two shoes, and Fern thinks that Victoria is bad news. When it is revealed that Fern has been out locking lips with an older, married man, Fern loses her moral superiority, and the rivalry becomes more intense.
Rounding out the group is Kate (Brie Larson), who is a libertine and a flirt, and Lucasta (Amy Ferguson), a tomboy who figures out that she isn’t into boys. Lucasta suspects she has amorous feelings for the fairer sex when Victoria kisses her briefly, and she enjoys it a little too much. She doesn’t find a love interest in the film, sadly – but she draws pretty pictures of cartoon women and wears Converses. Yup, she’s definitely one of us.
Lucasta flirts with anyone and everyone, including a teacher, played by Chris Kattan. His relationship with his wife can only be characterized as ridiculous, and it provides some awkward comic relief.
While the film doesn’t stand out from the crowd, it is enjoyable and many of the performances are compelling. King portrays the complex character of Victoria skillfully. Victoria is outwardly edgy, bold, outgoing, the girl you secretly wish you could be when you were 16, but inside, she is falling apart and filled with despair. Even as she prances around in public, seemingly untouchable and confident, you can see the sadness and insecurity behind the devilish glint in her eyes.
Written and directed by Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesca Gregorini, both of whom attended boarding school, Tanner Hall must have been cobbled together from real life experiences, and the occasionally dreamy cinematography and longer than usual lulls in the camera work on campus hint at nostalgia. I wouldn’t be nostalgic about suicidal thoughts and home wrecking, but adolescence is a tumultuous and confusing time. Eventually, after tackling enough after school special issues than an entire season of the original Degrassi, the film finally closes with Victoria and Fern coming to a mutual understanding. The kids are going to be all right.
Watch the trailer for Tanner Hall below:
Tanner Hall opens today, September 9.