"Who sits around boarding school obeying every rule?" According to "Tanner Hall," a new film by Tatiana von Furstenberg '91 and Francesca Gregorini '90 opening tonight in Warwick, no one does.
The movie follows the lives of four young women attending an all-girls boarding school in New England. According to Gregorini, the directors modeled the story off their experiences at similar schools in England — but hopefully not too similar. The film's four protagonists find themselves in varying degrees of trouble as they enter the morally ambiguous realm of adulthood.
The film is careful not to assign blame to any of its characters, despite their misdemeanors. "We did try to stay away from that kind of morality," von Furstenberg said.
"There is no such thing as the good girl or the bad girl," Gregorini said. "As the good girl, you are capable of making bad choices."
The film follows its ensemble cast through six interwoven story lines that largely revolve around the four girls and the pseudo-stock characters they come to represent. The film reveals that both the good girl and the villainess are "capable of violence," as Fernanda (Rooney Mara) so aptly says at the beginning of the film.
Fernanda, the goody-goody, claims she wants to follow the rules. But she also seems to invite trouble in, engaging in an affair with a married family friend that drives the film to its conclusion.
Kate (Brie Larson) is a wild child who pops pills for fun, flirts with her married English teacher (Chris Kattan) and doesn't stop to consider the consequences of her actions until it is too late. By contrast, cautious Lucasta (Amy Ferguson) tries to be the glue that holds this group together but is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality and cannot always act as mediator.
The introduction of Victoria (Georgia King) to Tanner Hall at the beginning of the film further strains the girls' relationships. Victoria is pegged as the villain from the start, and she does little to improve her image. She lies to and manipulates her peers, but her mother's cool disregard and her own morbid fixation with death earn her some sympathy.
Mara, who has recently been cast as the title character in the film adaptation of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," was brilliant as Fernanda, imbuing her character with the right amounts of confusion, rebelliousness and disenchantment that come with the entrance to adulthood.
Her ill-timed suitor Gio is effortlessly played by the irresistible Tom Everett Scott. Fernanda is confused about her relationships at school and her budding maturity, while Gio is a lost city boy stuck in the country with a baby he doesn't want on the way. It is "the intersection of coming-of-age and midlife crisis," Gregorini said.
What begins as a genuine friendship between the two soon develops into something more, and the earnest emotions conveyed by the actors leave the audience unsure where to place the blame for their affair — if, indeed, there is any blame to be placed.
"We really took our time in the casting process," Gregorini said. The casting crew made sure to seek out genuine actors for the roles — anyone with a "Hollywood vibe" was dismissed, Gregorini said.
The film is steeped in reality. The girls' problems are realistic, and their emotional responses are heartfelt and sincere.
While the film's themes are nothing new, the fresh take is interesting and timeless. The film is, in fact, set ambiguously set time-wise — the clothing, music, cars and decor were all chosen carefully to represent any era within the last 30 years.
"We wanted it to be relatable to everyone," Gregorini said. "It's not about today or yesterday, it's about the process of coming of age."
This is the directorial debut for Gregorini and von Furstenberg, who have been "best, best friends" since their days at Brown, Gregorini said.
Both directors took classes in Modern Culture and Media and studied with Lowry Marshall, professor of theater arts and performance studies.
"The only training we had in filmmaking was at Brown," Gregorini said.
"They were both wonderful when they were in undergraduate school," Marshall said.
The two kept in touch with Marshall after graduation, and when they decided to film in Rhode Island, they invited Marshall to play a minor role in the film she describes as "beautifully shot."
The film also includes at least one scene filmed outside Brown Stadium, and another featuring dancers from the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies in a waltz scene.
"Tanner Hall" transports the viewer to the world of boarding school, where emotions run high as childhood comes to end, and reality hits you square in the face. With strong acting and lush cinematography, the film promises to bring closure and hope to all those lamenting their earlier days and naivete.