Tanner Hall is the type of movie that follows a bunch of people who do nothing important throughout the entire movie and then expect us to believe that they’ve grown up, redeemed themselves, or otherwise changed for the better. In this case, it takes place in an all-girls boarding school, and follows the exploits of four teenagers as they begin to learn about adulthood. Kind of. It’s more about them just getting into trouble and then learning from that mistake, while making inconsequential decisions in the meantime.
The lead is Fernanda (Rooney Mara), a senior at this school who longs for it whenever she’s not there. She doesn’t like her home life — the reason for this is never clear — and absolutely adores her two closes friends, Lucasta (Amy Ferguson), and Kate (Brie Larson). A fourth girl, Victoria (Georgia King), someone who was friends with Fernanda in early childhood but they haven’t spoken in years, also joins the party, and before you know it, we have our characters. They all have stereotypical defining features, and soon enough they’re an easygoing group.
That is, except for Victoria, who is clearly an outsider. If Fernanda is the leader of the group, her decisions must be obeyed. And since she and Victoria can’t be friends, the other two girls, who are perfectly amiable with the newcomer, can’t be either. It turns out that Fernanda is right, though, as Victoria’s stereotype is that of a troubled young woman who takes out her internal frustrations on everyone else, making their lives miserable. Because, as we all know, misery loves company, and there’s enough of it to go around.
The rest of the girls end up being impacted, one by one, by Victoria, mostly in the romance department. Fernanda falls for a married man named Gio (Tom Everett Scott), Kate flirts with everyone, including her teacher, Mr. Middlewood (Chris Kattan), who takes a deep affection with her, while Lucasta is the shy and quiet one … for some reason, which will be revealed later on in the film, but is clearly the member of the group on whom we’re not going to spend too much time.
All of these relationships and hopeful relationships are going to, in one way or another, be impacted by the meanie, Victoria. She’s mean because her mother is neglectful and she hates her life. That has to be fixed in a coming-of-age flick. So does the quiet nature of Lucasta, the lustful one of Kate, and whatever it is that Fernanda is — perhaps her dislike of Victoria. Yes, that seems like a good problem to fix. Go, movie, go!
There’s nothing in Tanner Hall that you haven’t seen before. It’s a standard movie with absolutely nothing to set it apart from the crowd, which is a shame because it so desperately wants to be a personal film. It’s purportedly based on the experiences of its writer-directors, Tatiana von Fürstenberg and Francesca Gregorini, and it has some fine young actors. It’s just that the talent behind the camera wasn’t enough to elevate the film beyond the generic, taking a potentially personal script and turning it standard and boring.
The reason that the archetypes are used is so that you can immediately identify and distinguish what’s driving each girl forward. You can also recognize each personality easily and therefore we don’t need to spend time on that. The problem comes when these characters don’t develop or move away from the cliché, which is exactly what happens here. They stay the same, never evolving, until one thing happens which makes them go “Oh, hey, we should get better at life and stuff.” The event — it’s different for each of them — isn’t even terribly influential; it just happens to have an impact because … reasons, I guess.
There’s no real flow to the decisions that these characters make. Making decisions on a whim is great and all, and for adolescents, it fits, but even the ones that are supposed to show how they’re grown up and have changed simply appear out of nowhere. Perhaps it worked that way in real life for the writer-directors, but I’d like a sense of logic, please. It would at least establish the characters as something more than magical faeries who can do whatever they want at any time.
Tanner Hall was filmed a long time before its release, and even after appearing in various festivals, it wasn’t picked up by a distributor until after Rooney Mara signed on for the American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s a hard film to market, so I understand that mentality. If the attempt is to showcase Mara, it doesn’t quite work, as she shows nothing of promise here. Nobody really does. If they did, the script might have been elevated beyond the mediocrity that it proves to be.
Tanner Hall could have been powerful, but it falls flat because of a mediocre, easy story that doesn’t provide us with any logic, characters that move beyond archetypes, or anything of value. It’s a coming-of-age story where all of the transformations for these people happen on a whim, not because of the prior parts of the film. Beyond that, it’s simply a dull watch that you’ve seen before, and better. Skip Tanner Hall.