Too Tall (2014) – By Matthew Saliba

When I was young, I was tall. At least, I thought I was tall. At 5 feet, 11 inches, I pretty much towered over everyone in my old neighborhood. Then I started going to elementary school and it was there that I quickly discovered my size was not an anomaly. The teachers would have us line up in order of height whenever it was time to go out for recess. While I would inevitably find myself standing towards the end of the line, there would be at least one or two others right behind me whose vertical prowess left me feeling emasculated in comparison. Whether I intended to do so or not, from that point on, I came to resent these gentlemen for making me feel the way I did.

Perhaps that is the reason why Van, the titular “Too Tall” character played by Ivan Petric, who also wrote and directed said film, finds himself ostracized by the local filmmaking community. Van works in sales to pay the bills, but his passion is to become a full-time working actor. However, he finds his above average height to be a burden he is increasingly unable to bear. His best friend Johnny (played by Tarek Gader) has a similar situation in that he’s below average height, but unlike Van, seems to have a better grip on his situation and in many cases uses it to his advantage. He too, is an actor, and like Van, finds roles hard to come by.

As if balancing his day job with his acting “career” wasn’t hard enough, Van also finds himself in a bit of a pickle when it comes to his relationship with Melissa (played by Mariana Tayler). Melissa comes from a conservative, orthodox family who would much rather have her marry someone of reputation and status instead of the towering giant she brings home for dinner one evening who suspiciously spends more time in the bathroom than enjoying the fine meal the matriarch of the household prepared in his honor.

Between the frustrations of a hobby never evolving into a career and a relationship perpetually stuck in neutral, things eventually boil to a head where Van decides to retreat from it all and contemplate what he truly wants in life and who he wants to spend it with.

“Too Tall” is the directorial debut of Montreal filmmaker, Ivan Petric who along with terrific cast featuring standout performances by Tarek Ghader, Mariana Tayler and Petric himself (who ironically very much has the acting chops and look of a leading man, in spite of playing a character who is constantly told throughout the film that he does not possess said talent) tell a story that combines many of my favorite tropes.

First, there’s the “behind-the-scenes” motif. I’m a sucker for films about the process of making films and “Too Tall” is very insightful in that regard whether it’s accurately depicting the desperation of an actor with a day job trying to find a paying role and sometimes succumbing to the most degrading gig all in the time of paying the bills, the egos of “stars” working in the indie film scene or the scumbag casting agents who have the audacity to charge you for “finding you roles” when all they’re really doing is answering Craig’s List ads, something you could easily do for yourself and for free no less.

Second, there’s the “buddy comedy” angle in which two guys go on an emotional journey where they start out as buds, get into a big fight or misunderstanding which causes a strain on the relationship and eventually reunite in the name of friendship being more important than whatever it was that caused a temporary rift between them. Petric and Ghader play very well off each other and share some very funny scenes, particularly when they take an acting workshop in which a rather, ahem, “unique” vocal exercise is taught to them.

And finally, there’s the romantic angle. I especially loved the interaction between Van and Melissa (played by Mariana Tayler). I should point out that Tayler was especially good in this film and when you consider that French is her mother tongue, I think her ability with the English language and the way she endows her dialogue with subtlety and nuance is nothing short of incredible. The two look very good together and while their fate may not go in the direction you think it will go in, it’s nevertheless a fun ride that will always leave a smile on your face.

Having said all this, like any first-time feature, “Too Tall” is not without its faults.

The first thing that jumped out at me and was unfortunately all too constant throughout the film was the sound mix and use of music. I personally felt that the sound was mixed way too loud with the music sometimes drowning out the dialogue and overpowering scenes that to be perfectly honest, didn’t really need any music to begin with. There were several instances where you would have two or three scenes back-to-back all overlain with loud orchestral pieces that I have to confess had me rolling my eyes, especially when they didn’t seem to serve a purpose other than to reinforce the emotions being conveyed by the actors on screen. If I have any advice to director Ivan Petric, it’s that in the future, learn to have more confidence in your material and the actors you hire to bring your story to life. You had both in the bag in this case here and if you were a little more conservative in when and where you chose to place musical accompaniment, these scenes would stand out a lot more.

Another thing that caught my attention was how some of the humor in the film came off a tad homophobic. Whether it was the unfortunate cliché of an acting teacher who, surprise, surprise, is flamboyantly gay or the association of a douchebag, egotistical actor receiving a blowjob from another guy and presented in such a fashion as to get a laugh from the audience at said actor’s expense, jokes about gays because they’re gay, feel very primitive in the 21st century and they certainly marred what was otherwise a wholesome, funny comedy.

And finally, something that really stood out for me was how for a film about being “too tall,” I was actually amazed at how quickly this theme seemed to be dropped about halfway into the film. We get the inevitable flashback showing Van dealing with height issues as a high school student and a few scenes here and there showing Van trying to navigate through the murky waters of the indie film scene as a “giant” in a land of 5’7 actors, but then after that, the film quickly turns into a standard buddy comedy/rom-com in which the height issue takes a back seat, never to be brought up again.

In this case, I’m willing to give Petric the benefit of the doubt and suggest that this was intentional. One of the themes of the film seems to be that a man shouldn’t be measured by the height of his physical being but rather by the width of his heart and the depth of his convictions. And perhaps the best way to fully illustrate this is to simply create a scenario in which we no longer care about how tall Van is but rather the trials and tribulations that we find his character going through.

In a time when filmmakers are trying too hard to be “edgy” or “experimental” for the sake of being so, it can sometimes be very refreshing when a director comes along with a film that isn’t necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel but rather focus on telling a tried, tested and true story that evokes a strong emotional response from his audience. In the case of “Too Tall,” I think Petric succeeds admirably as I found myself caring a great deal about Van and applauded him once he finally achieved his dream both professionally and personally.

“Too Tall” is available to rent or buy online at: http://www.tootallmovie.com