"Tanner Hall" is one of those well meaning, but very familiar, coming-of-age stories that have populated the movie landscape since before I can remember. That said, it is also a movie that I very much wanted to like. Despite the well-worn premise, the film is obviously made with care and there is a lot of talent involved in the production. The piece seems very personal to filmmakers Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg, and I admired the look and feel of the picture with its muted tones and its palpable aura of nostalgia. And yet for all its good qualities, there seems to be something lacking. Forget for a minute that we've seen every plot point in countless other movies as this can actually be forgiven if a film is exceedingly well done. My primary concern stems from a screenplay that seems to have huge chunks missing. The movie feels very episodic as we move from scene to scene, oftentimes with no tangible or logical connector. Several times as a new sequence would begin, I had to think "huh, did I miss something?" because nothing that was shown supported what was currently happening. My favorite instance involved the disappearance of a major character with a paraphrased narration that said something like "she was so upset, she never left school again." And then we never see this principle character again!
"Tanner Hall" does boast a strong and appealing cast. It concerns a quartet of girls at a boarding school, each navigating the pitfalls of advancing to womanhood. They are, however, stuck in pretty stock characterizations despite good performances all around. Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) plays a good girl involved in a flirtation with a married man, Gerorgia King plays a troubled girl who acts out in response to an unhappy home life, Brie Larson plays a mischievous girl who flirts with a teacher, and Amy Ferguson plays a girl struggling to understand her sexuality. I liked all four actresses, and enjoyed the comedic bits offered up by the great Amy Sedaris and Chris Kattan as the so-called responsible adults. Individual moments can be quite effective or amusing, it just never seems to gel to a cohesive whole.
I can't help but wonder what the original script looked like or how much material had to be excised from the final production schedule. The unexplained narrative jumps are really quite jarring. Still, if you're a fan of any of the lead actors--they are earnest and convincing. The film looks great, but it ends up losing emotional impact for the reasons stated already. I think the filmmakers exhibit a lot of style and a real eye for scene composition, and I look forward to sampling the next endeavor. But for me, "Tanner Hall" left me a bit empty. KGHarris, 12/11.