6 Reasons You’ll Want to See “Tanner Hall” Despite Its Abysmal Reviews

“Ever wondered what growing up in an all-girls boarding school was really like?” FoxNews asks its storied readers.  “Apparently it involves raging hormones, lesbian experiences, family fights, affairs with married men, putting male teachers in compromising positions, and just all around breaking lots of rules…. At least that is what two young women who drew on their own England boarding school days have envisioned in their big-screen drama Tanner Hall.

Having spent two years in boarding school myself, I can confirm that this is all true. Boarding school does involve raging hormones, lesbian experiences, family fights, affairs with married men, putting male teachers in compromising positions, and just all around breaking lots of rules. Check. Check. Check.

Tanner Hall was made in 2009, debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last year and opened in select theaters statside last Friday.

It stars Rooney Mara (the upcoming star of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Georgia King (One Day), Amy Ferguson (Garden State), Brie Larson (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!), Chris Kattan (Saturday Night Live), and Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy).

Critical reception, however, suggests a Lost & Delirious level of artistry is at work. (See: “Riese’s Special Comment on Why Lost & Delirious Sucks.”)

In a review entitled Rich Girls Have All Kind of Drama, The New York Times describes the film as “an uneven drama” which “rarely rises above the generic, though its atmosphere of coddled young people indulging themselves in opulent surroundings is palpably authentic.” 

The Los Angeles Times:

“Like detention, “Tanner Hall,” the new coming-of-age-in-a-boarding-school drama, allows room for a lot of thinking about other things — its cast most notably, since watching their struggle to move beyond the mundane is painful.”


“…there’s a certain hollowness that permeates the film, almost as if these performances lack the authenticity that would make a bold affair with an older married man/tempting a teacher/discovering sexuality believable.”


“an amateur hour panoply of boarding school girl cliches.”

Film Journal:

“…while eschewing some failings of the girl-school genre, the film makes some distracting detours into comic territory.”

Hollywood Reporter:

“an empty take on a venerable movie institution.”


“overly wordy and desperately poetic narration… it feels more like a bunch of fortune cookie fortunes strung together rather than a more natural ode to life lessons learned.”

Despite all of these discouraging words — especially the mention of predictable story arcs, which make me particularly insane, I still want to watch the hell out of this movie!


6 Reasons I Will See Tanner Hall Even Though It’s Probably Terrible

and then complain about it afterwards


1. Boarding School

Not gonna lie, I don’t think my life will ever be as good as it was my senior year at boarding school, which’s why I leap at any opportunity to vicariously re-experience that experience. (Former excursions include the fantastic novel Prep and the worst movie of all time, Lost & Delirious.) Also, who didn’t love Dead Poets Society? RIGHT?!


2. Female Directors

The film is directed by best friends Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg (Diane’s daughter), both boarding school graduates who met at Brown University. In this video they talk about themselves for eight minutes:


3. Lesbian Director

Gregorini is the daughter of Barbara Bach and Augusto Gregorini and Ringo Starr’s stepdaughter — she is also Portia De Rossi’s ex-girlfriend and an out lesbian. In 2002, Francesca told World Entertainment News: “I was a tomboy until I was 18. I had boyfriends, but I never understood the whole hoopla about sex. I could take it or leave it. Then, when I discovered girls, I was like, ‘Aha, now I get it!’ I was 19 years old. I knew I was a lesbian.” In the past Gregorini has been linked to Kate Moennig. This is really desperately important information, I do hope you’re taking notes.


4. Lesbian Character

From Canadian Reuters:

Q: One of the characters is conflicted about her sexuality. Francesca, as a lesbian, was this important to include?

Gregorini: “It was such a part of my adolescence and my coming of age and that confusion. It was something I wanted in the movie and Tatiana fully supported it.”


5. It’s About Girls

As I lamented in I Don’t Like Movies, once upon a time there were lots of movies about girls — Virgin Suicides, The Craft, Boys on the Side, Now and Then, How to Make an American Quilt, Jawbreaker, Clueless, Girl Interrupted — and now there aren’t so many movies about girls.

Who doesn’t love to come of age! Coming of age, it’s all the rage!


6. Amy Sedaris

Amy Sedaris plays Tanner Hall’s housemother. I would watch Amy Sedaris eat cheeseballs or paint a fence. Whatever she wants to do, I’ll watch it. From a New York Magazine interview:

There’s some serious frenemy action going on in Tanner Hall. Did you relate to any of the female friendships, or was your high school experience totally different?
My high school experience was different. I can’t imagine going to an all-girls school. I went to a public school. I got along with the potheads and I got along with the pretty people — like now, I kind of got along with everybody. I was in a lot of clubs and I was still a Girl Scout.

Anyhow, it’s been psychiatrically proven that when you tell someone about your plans, it gives you all the emotional satisfaction of actually fulfilling those plans without having to actually fulfill those plans, and therefore makes you less likely to actually do what you said you were gonna do. Crazy, right? That’s probably the one useful piece of information in this whole post.

So, at the end of the day will I see this movie? Or did I start this post before I started reading the reviews because I was so excited about the first two minutes of the preview, and then I just had to change course? The world is brimming with possibilities! Almost anything could happen ever! Count your lucky stars!

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3181 articles for us.


  1. While, after reading this review I am out to go get the movie I do think that the critisism of cliche’s could be a very real one.
    “Boarding school does involve raging hormones, lesbian experiences, family fights, affairs with married men, putting male teachers in compromising positions, and just all around breaking lots of rules. Check. Check. Check.”

    I think that attributing these things to boarding schools is a bit of an oversight. Having gone to a mixed sex Catholic highschool I am tell you that all of these things applied. I’m not sure that this is something limited to boarding schools, but to many highschools in general.

    That being said, to me being cliche’ never affects how much I am going to enjoy a movie. Its what they do with the cliche’. I am really, really looking forward to reading this.

    For Women.
    For the Love of Women.

    • Boarding schools make all of that really INTENSE, though. Like, it’s not just that it happens, but that it doesn’t fucking LEAVE. Nobody gets a chance step away from it when school’s out and unwind and let stuff go when they go home.

      You eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with your classmates, you talk a walk around the outskirts of campus and fail to avoid two dozen other students when you need to clear your head. You shower in the same room as six other young people. When you retreat to your room to talk to your friends, you’re probably rooming with at least one other person, which means that you’re going to be running into all HER friends, too. Also like half the teachers live on campus so there’s no escaping them, either (that may have just been the place I went, though).

      When a scandal strikes, gossip doesn’t really get a chance to percolate. It just gets passed around and rehashed and dissected and spiced up and oversteeped like a seriously overbrewed pot of tea.

      I may not have been a boarding student (it was way cheaper to be a day student), but the stories I heard made me forever grateful I had the opportunity to get OFF campus and away from that toxic environment. To be entirely fair, it did foster a lot of extraordinarily deep friendships(/romances, occasionally, although I wasn’t in a position to know) and some incredible when-I-was-in-high-school stories.

      • “Boarding schools make all of that really INTENSE, though. Like, it’s not just that it happens, but that it doesn’t fucking LEAVE. Nobody gets a chance step away from it when school’s out and unwind and let stuff go when they go home.”


        Also, if you fuck up in the real world, your parents punish you — for drinking, or whatever it is. But if you fuck up at boarding school — like getting caught for drinking — it goes on your academic record which is shown to colleges and you risk being expelled or suspended from school altogether. So the stakes are much higher.

      • Yep, I learned this reading “Harry Potter.” And then the Dark Lord always knows where to find you… it’s frustrating.

  2. Ohhhhh my, that thing you said about telling people your plans makes you less likely to do them; it is all starting to make sense now!! From now on, I am going to be quiet, mysterious and spontaneous!
    But it does rather upset me that this means that I should stop telling people my awesome plans, like about how when I start university next week, I am going to make myself known to all the lesbo crew, have a massive orgy, and keep the girl who is best at licking pussy. How is everyone meant to know how awesome I am (at least inside my own head)???

    • Because you will DO all those things instead of just SAYING you’ll do those things. If you pull it off, everyone will know that you’re pretty damn awesome.

      Except now I guess you won’t do it, since you told us about it. Ooops.

      • It’s alright, that one has already be told to friends, so it was sadly never going to happen anyway :(. At least this is my excuse now!

        Now you will just have to wonder about my plans to top that beauty.

  3. Wow, they are incredibly inarticulate (I’m watching the interview). They said the word friend almost 50 times in the first minute! They don’t finish the sentences they start! Oh well.

  4. Francesco Gregorini actually put out an album years ago. I own it. Its imperfectly but I listened to it a lot. I thought she had a unique take on things. I definitely want to see the movie. Even if I then end up complaining about it.

  5. “Anything worth anything is both terrifying and beautiful. Like the first time you do something wrong, you know its wrong, yet you do it anyway” —or something like that.

    That right there is enough for me to watch this movie.

  6. This looks awesome! Definitely falls in to the “I Don’t Care What Reviews Say, I’m Totally Seeing It” category.

  7. dude, riese. I cant believe you wrote about this movie! It has been saved on my netflix cue for fucking ever (netflix/tvblinkx keeps asking me if I mean the documentary about snowboarder Tanner Hall). way to be

    • Amy Sedaris is amazing. She’d be one of the famous people I’d invite to a hypothetical dinner party full of famous people, because I bet she’d be fun and crazy and be able to talk to everyone else.

  8. Riese, love your stuff but have a hard time trusting your movie criticism when you constantly rail on Lost and Delirious, Lea Pool’s embrace of and then superb subversion of same sex teen love. Along with The New World, Tropical Malady, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Movern Caller, Lost and Delirious features some of the strongest visuals and finest cinematography in films of the 2000’s. That it combines it with a critique of the filmic perception of teenage lesbianism and finds a deeper truth. This is most striking in Tori whose depiction completely obliterates the cliche of the the girl who grows out of her relationship with a girl and into a relationship with a boy. Instead Tori’s behavior is seen as a regression, a young woman leaving the person she loves in an attempt to fit the familial requirements – a straight relationship revealed to be against Tori’s nature.

    We all know lesbians and bisexual women who entered relationships with men, often many, in an attempt to do away with their true feelings. Few films have ever shown the dehumanization that happens when this occurs. As intriguing is Paulie. The director could have easily toned down Paulie’s reactions and played it safe. Instead the director allows the audience to be empathetic to Paulie while retaining that she is losing it. In other words, it embraces the tropes only to show how the heterosexist and homophobic perceptions are false and dishonest.

    Lea Pool’s work here is similar to Todd Haynes’s deconstructions. The difference here is that Pool embraces the emotionalism of the characters. It is a hothouse film with profound ideas on the effects of heterosexism and homophobia.

    • correction – “embrace of and then superb subversion of same sex teen love” should read “embrace of and then superb subversion of same sex teen love tragedy tropes.”

  9. saw it and REALLY loved it. Amy Ferguson does a pretty fantastic job at the whole “I have this really great male best friend who is in love with me, but I’m not in love with him and I just don’t know why” role. she also pulls off a tie pretty adorably.

  10. saw it and REALLY loved it. Amy Ferguson does a pretty fantastic job at the whole “I have this really great male best friend who is in love with me, but I’m not in love with him and I don’t quite know why…” role. she also pulls off a tie pretty adorably.

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