Tanner Hall premièred two years ago at the Toronto Film Festival, to little excitement, but since then, it has—in a manner more common to wine than to film—aged into a more viable item. Specifically, lead actress Rooney Mara has become The Girl With The Monstrous Franchise: She’s slated to play punk-rock hacker genius Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s adaptation of the first volume of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millennium series. Mara plays the main character and provider of sporadic voiceovers in this look at the ups and down of four high-school seniors at a posh New England all-girls boarding school.
Writer-directors Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg drew on their own school experiences for Tanner Hall, and the result isn’t bad, it just lacks momentum and a strong reason for existing. Its four lissome lasses have been assigned different issues to overcome over the school year: Amy Ferguson is questioning her sexuality, while Brie Larson (of United States Of Tara) is learning the power of hers by flirting with the school’s English teacher (Chris Kattan). Mara does some flirting of her own, and a little more, with Tom Everett Scott, a soon-to-be-hipster-dad married to an old friend of her mother’s who lives nearby. And Georgia King is the hot mess, a manipulative liar with suicidal tendencies and a monstrous (but immaculately dressed) mom who thinks nothing of tearing her down in public.
The latter two story threads, with their beautiful, neglectful mother figures, have the intrigue of vague gossip-column blind items, given the glittery families from which the filmmakers come. Gregorini is the daughter of Bond girl Barbara Bach and the stepdaughter of Ringo Starr, while von Furstenberg, a princess, is the child of designer Diane von Furstenberg. But even the resolutions found for those prickly sad-rich-girl turmoils seem vague, the latest skirmishes in ongoing battles, all filtered through the Levi’s-commercial prettiness with which the whole film is shot. Mara is, at least, promising as a girl in over her head who’s also sophisticated enough to never seem victimized in her ill-advised romance. She appears to be in a much more grounded movie than the one in which Kattan and the great Amy Sedaris, playing his sex-starved wife, are acting: Their limited scenes come across like inserts from an entirely separate goofy comedy, added after the fact to give Tanner Hall some signs of life.