A misshapen beast of a film, Tanner Hall isn’t so much kaleidoscopic, episodic drama as underdeveloped, perfunctory multi-character mash-up. Well, Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg’s film is episodic, but the episodes don’t achieve any kind of cumulative effect. Instead this boarding school-set chamber piece continually jumps from one half-baked plotline to another according to the dictates of an obscure logic all its own, with only very occasional, but very florid bursts of pseudo-poetic narration and the hermetic physical proximity of the characters holding together this overstuffed, underimagined work.
The film’s gallery of figures includes a quartet of late-teenage girls sequestered at the eponymous New England high school and a pair of elder love interests for two of the young women. While we’re briefly apprised of the childhood connection between the new girl on the quad, bitchy, rebellious Victoria (Georgia King), and the veteran favorite, straight-laced Fernanda (Rooney Mara), the animosity that sparks up between the duo is laid out in a matter-of-fact manner that, rather than invite the active viewer to draw his or her own conclusions, registers as one more sketchily evoked plotline. There are plenty more of these, whether it’s flirty Kate’s would-be dalliance with the married headmaster or mousy Lucasta’s lesbianism, but while the former fails in its tonal shift between sexy comedy and tragic consequence (mostly because the comedy isn’t funny and the tragedy feels tossed off), the latter, for all its perfunctoriness, is at least rendered with a winning, non-cloying sweetness. For once in the movie understatement doesn’t mean underdevelopment.
The film’s principle focus—and the only plotline to receive sustained, continuous treatment—involves Fernanda’s unsatisfying affair with an older, married man, the husband of her mother’s friend. Aging hipster Gio (Tom Everett Scott) begins taking out the young woman, teaching her about music (he’s shocked to learn she doesn’t recognize a Replacements song that plays on his car radio) and eventually bedding her in his overgrown boy’s hideout of a basement. If most of the film feels inert and lifeless, the Fernanda/Gio plotline, while it unfolds in ways too predictable to be dramatically satisfying, at least has the virtue of feeling like something that’s allowed to run its course without being forced into near abstraction. That’s more than can be said for the final moment of reckoning between Fernanda and Victoria. In that out-of-nowhere moment, a deeply buried plot strand suddenly emerges in all its fury, creating a head-scratching denouement that feels as ill-prepared for and as cursorily resolved as much of the rest of Gregorini’s and von Furstenberg’s folly.