Co-directors Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss tell a complicated story of a 17 year-old high school senior whose life takes a different direction after having an affair with her teacher. Amanda Drinkall and Michael Patrick Thornton star in this poignant and impactful tale, particularly in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp.
The opening scene creates an immediate sense of compassion for Justine (Drinkall) who is shunned not only by her parents and sister, but her classmates as well. From glaring stares in the hall to physical intimidation in the classroom, Justine seems to be the victim of intense bullying. As the story begins to take shape through her sessions with a mandatory therapist, Douglas (Thornton), we begin to understand what has happened to this young woman. The punishment she receives from her family, friends, and community for being a victim, although initially she is unaccepting of this title, is beyond comprehension, yet the film demonstrates how easily this can and probably does occur. It is this exploration of sexuality and consent that is perfectly demonstrated in various situations that makes this story so insightful and extraordinary.
Justine’s breaking point severs her professional relationship with Douglas, but awkwardly we see a true friendship develop between the two as they both need a friend in their respective times of need. The writer has set up a delicate balancing act as we see Justine as a vulnerable yet wise teen and Douglas as an older man with high integrity. With this, we hold our breath, waiting for the next shoe to fall, the tension continually building, hoping we can breathe a sigh of relief.
Justine is heads and shoulders above her peers, physically and intellectually, although emotionally she is still a teen and responds like any other 17 year-old. Her relationship with her parents is strained to say the least, and we discover the harsh realities of both her parents’ reactions to her actions as well as other adults. And a sisterly friendship has gone devastatingly awry, as Paula (Carolyn Braver) deceives and denies Justine repeatedly. Justine’s intrinsic fortitude is imperative to her survival and most of us would have buckled under such pressure and scrutiny.
The storyline is reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” as Justine is ostracized and ridiculed for her behavior. There are also assumptions about her character and therefore her rights as a human and a woman based on the fact that a teacher crossed a boundary. Justine is the guilty party in everyone’s eyes, not the teacher. We see everyone’s viewpoint regarding what happened and the humiliation and punishment Justine constantly receives. It’s heartbreaking, particularly as Justine looks back at the particular crossroad in her life, taking her down this life-changing road.
Drinkall and Thornton are extraordinary in these very complicated and deeply layered roles. Their genuine performances bring authenticity to not only their characters, but to the story itself. Both find nuanced subtleties to connect you to their characters and allow you to understand their thoughts and emotions. In fact, the entire cast is incredible and Braver shines as a typical teen, unable to handle her sister’s situation and the unrealistic expectations of her parents.
“The View from Tall” is a gripping story depicting sensitive topics told with deft skill. From underage drinking and eating disorders to bullying and rape, this film finds a way to gently tell a brutal story. And it’s not without humor, as Drinkall’s character is exceptionally bright and as she grows stronger, understanding her situation, she uses her razor sharp wit to cut those who deserve to receive it. Set in Chicago with an incredible musical score, this is a film to see.