Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE VIEW FROM TALL | 1h 27min | NR
Directed by: Caitlin Parrish, Erica Weiss
Starring: Amanda Drinkall, Michael Patrick Thornton, Carolyn Braver, Josh Bywater, James Leaming, Lia D. Mortensen, Eric Staves
We’ve all seen the scandalous headlines of teachers sleeping with their students and have heard details of these salacious affairs. I’m not going to list their names because you can remember or figure it out using google. These tales have inspired a multitude of Lifetime movies. However, what we seldom see is a story about the after-affect of the affair from the student’s perspective. Directors Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss admirably take a risk, telling a provocative story in THE VIEW FROM TALL. Brave, honest and heartfelt, this is a fairly solid debut from the first-time filmmakers.
Smart, defiant seventeen-year-old Justine Trahern (Amanda Drinkall) wants to drown out the world, hiding behind her glasses and headphones. Her home life currently sucks, dealing with aloof parents (played by James Leaming and Lia D. Mortensen) and combative younger sister Paula (Carolyn Braver). As she walks down the hallway at school, she dodges shoulders and evil stares in equal measure. Why has she suddenly drawn everyone’s scorn? Because she slept with a teacher (Josh Bywater) and she’s operating under a cloud of delusion that they are in an adult relationship. She’s been sent to therapy, seeing Douglas (Michael Patrick Thornton), a thirty-something, wheelchair-bound therapist with demons of his own. As the walls she put up begin to be dismantled, the pair realize they are kindred spirits. Their path towards self-forgiveness, however, isn’t clearly marked and gets pretty thorny.
Parrish and Weiss, working from Parrish’s script, establish a good tonal balance throughout. I liked that the film began and ended on a close-up of Justine, though in two different emotional headspaces. The pair have impeccable timing with Justine’s flashbacks. Sarah Beth Shapiro’s editing skills prove vital during those times. Drinkall gives a pitch-perfect performance as a girl, not yet a woman. She’s empathetic, enlightened and empowering. I also need a gif of her flipping off bully Brett (Eric Staves) in the hall. Braver finds the nuance in her supporting role. We can sense her character’s vulnerability in those moments of emotional aggression.
Despite being on the clichéd side when it comes to its “wealthy parent” portrayals, character dynamics and arcs feel organic. Though it goes to “taboo” places (what with ethical lines being crossed and the significant age difference between the leads), it tangibly lacks some raw and rough edges to the gray lines being crossed. While the character-based narrative drive isn’t quite as strong as it should be, Paula’s alcoholism, Douglas’ struggle for self-acceptance, and Justine’s frustrations still manage to resonate.
Imperfections be damned, THE VIEW FROM TALL stands as an notable debut from two female filmmakers. It’s a tall tale worth investing in.
THE VIEW FROM TALL played the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 6.