The View from Tall (2015) Film Review from the 22nd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss, starring Amanda Drinkall, Michael Patrick Thornton, Carolyn Braver, Chris Boykin, and Lia D. Mortensen.
It is hard to think of a bond as widely regarded as sacred – or nigh-well close to it – in modern society as that between minors and the adults who guide them, of that between student and teacher and patient and psychiatrist. While reports of couples divorcing and parents giving up their own flesh and blood for adoption fail to shock all but the most sensitive individuals, stories of educators engaging in affairs with their charges regularly provoke outrage and more often than not end with said educator losing their job, if not serving jail time, with the student getting off scot-free. The presumption is that the student, being under-age, is not responsible for their actions, a sensible enough policy for elementary and middle schools. High schoolers, however, present a different case: although most are legally minors, many consider themselves to basically be adults and thus deserving of all the rights adults are granted, even if they aren’t ready for them. This difficult challenge is the focus of Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss’s The View from Tall, a potent character study of one such student.
That student is Justine Trahern (Drinkall), a high school senior who is all too ready to leave it behind. She is incredibly bright, but terribly lonely: her advanced mind is ill-complemented by a lack of emotional maturity and practical wisdom that brings her into conflict with her peers and drives her into the arms of Jason (Josh Bywater), her instructor who made the mistake of showing her kindness when no else would.
The ensuing scandal results in Jason fleeing the scene, leaving Justine to weather the scorn and ostracism that comes with pursuing such a taboo relationship. It doesn’t matter that Justine initiated it of her own accord, as she futilely tries to rationalize her behavior: she has transgressed one of the few sexual codes of conduct left, and thus her peers will never let her live it down. Even her family is ashamed of her, with her sister Paula (Braver) regularly declining to defend her when others insult her and her father (James Leaming) sneering that he understands why one of her classmates made an unsolicited pass at her. With all this to go on, viewers expect Douglas (Thorton), Justine’s newly-assigned psychiatrist, to treat her as everyone else does, but as he learns more about her case, he finds himself increasingly drawn to the funny girl who is only asking for some respect.
As laden with troubling implications as it is, the audience is unable to bring itself to forcefully condemn either Justine or Douglas for becoming romantically involved with each other. We know it’s wrong, even if we’re not entirely sure why it’s wrong, as the film itself brilliantly lampshades. When Justine kisses Douglas for the first time on the night before her birthday, he matter-of-factually reminds her that she’s seventeen. Undeterred, she corrects him, saying she is now eighteen years old, leaving him stupefied. Like Douglas, viewers are inclined to disapprove of Justine’s move, but suddenly find themselves unable to turn to the law to determine whether an act that until an hour or two before was considered a crime is defensible or not. It’s a clever move that forces one to think hard, and helps make The View from Tall stand out from other high school dramas.
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