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With such recent additions to the well-appointed genre as Cracks and St. Trinian’s, audiences haven’t exactly been hurting for girls’ boarding school films, and the newest arrival, Tanner Hall, co-directed by Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Fursternberg, does nothing to distinguish itself from its peers.
Populated by a standard-issue student body that is comprised of hollow archetypes rather than fully-realized characters, and tonally all over the place, the coming-of-age story admittedly does stand out from the pack in one regard — it’s likely the only one to begin life as a never-made UPN pilot.
The fact that it’s released now after first being screened at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival would have much to do with star Rooney Mara and her upcoming portrayal of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the hotly-anticipated David Fincher remake.
Mara plays the part of sensible Fernanda, a senior at Tanner Hall, a sheltered New England boarding school that has seen better semesters.
Trouble has arrived in the form of Victoria (Georgia King), an old childhood friend and Class A instigator who intends to shake up the staid establishment.
Not that Fernanda needs Victoria to lead her astray, since she’s already risked her reputation as resident moral compass by having an affair with the husband (Tom Everett Scott) of her mom’s very pregnant friend.
It would have helped matters if co-directors and writers Gregorini and von Furstenberg (daughter of fashion icon Diane) dug a little deeper when it came to creating believable, empathetic characters.
Instead, they serve up paper-thin variations on The Good Girl, The Bad Girl, The Sex Kitten and The Sexually Confused Girl and then proceeds to track their predictable exploits in a dramatically inert manner that cries out for greater directorial discipline.
Despite the inherent obstacles, a couple of performances still manage to elicit audience sympathy, including Mara, who instills her wide-eyed character with necessary vulnerability; and Amy Ferguson as the conflicted tomboy.
Adding an energetic, if jarringly off-key, levity to the proceedings are Amy Sedaris and Chris Kattan as a pair of faculty members who are struggling to put the spark back in their relationship.
Unfortunately they prove as unsuccessful at saving their marriage as they do saving this empty take on a venerable movie institution.
Opens: Friday, Sept. 9 (Anchor Bay Films)
Production companies: Islander Films, Royalton Films
Cast: Rooney Mara, Georgia King, Brie Larson, Amy Sedaris, Chris Kattan
Directors-screenwriters: Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg
Executive producer: Richard L. Bready
Producers: Julia R. Snyder, Tatiana von Furstenberg, Francesca Gregorini
Director of photography: Brian Rigney Hubbard
Production designer: Ray Kluga
Music: Roger Neill
Costume designers: Karen Baird, Erica Nicotra
Editors: Michelle Botticelli, Sharon Marie Rutter, Lauren Zuckerman
Rating: R, 95 minutes.
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