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Thursday, February 8, 2018
Stunning sexual abuse drama in The Tale...
I’ve attended the Sundance
Film Festival for about a decade
and, until now, there’s always
been a constant. After a big
premiere, the men’s room
adjacent to the enormous Eccles
Theater is brimming with chatter.
As the credits rolled on
Jennifer Fox’s The Tale there
was stony silence. I’ve never
seen anything like it—the hushed
lavatory or, quite frankly, this
The Tale rattled me in ways
I didn’t know I still could be
rattled. This deliberately paced,
remarkable exploration about
sexual abuse, consent and way
we second-guess ourselves is the
mother of all #MeToo movies.
Perhaps if I knew going in that
I would see (simulated) child
molestation and hear the phrases
predators use to lure children
into thinking that their bond is
“too pure for regular society to
understand,” I would not have
had such a visceral reaction.
Would Jennifer Fox and
company take it as a compliment
if I told them that their movie
almost made me throw up?
Because it did, but only because
this remarkable achievement is
so damn effective.
Fox has been making
documentaries for 30 years, but
this is her first scripted film. It is,
however, an autobiography, or at
least based on a kind of dialogue
between the adult Fox (as played
by Laura Dern) and the 13 year-
old version of herself.
As a child she wrote a short
story (upon which this film is
technically “based”), and at the
time she claimed it was fiction.
Encountering that story again
“now” begins a long, serpentine
road to a shocking realisation:
Fox was sexually molested as
a pre-pubescent, even though
she’s held those memories as
part of her self-described bloom
into a maturity.
In the 35 intervening years
Fox (and at this point it is hard
to know if we’re talking about
the actual Jennifer Fox or the
version Dern plays) buried
herself in her work, often on
the subject of sexual abuse and
female empowerment. She’s first
nudged to reflection when Fox’s
mother (Ellen Burstyn) finds the
old story from her eighth grade
creative writing class.
In it, she describes her two
mentors: “Mrs G” (Elizabeth
Debicki), a strict, married
trainer from a horse camp, and
her lover Bill ( Jason Ritter),
a running coach. Fox was an
introspective child in a busy
home with numerous siblings, so
began spending weekends on the
“Mrs G.” and Bill bond with
the younger version of Jennifer
(Isabelle Nélisse), but soon red
There are many overlapping
threads and timelines. Common
has a small but essential role
as Jennifer’s current and very
supportive boyfriend, to whom
Jennifer argues that she is not
now nor has she ever been a
victim. This is where The Tale
treads into some daring and
It’s not as if the movie states
that a 13 year-old girl has the
capacity to engage in a mature,
intimate relationship with a
nearly 40 year-old man.
But it does offer the basis for
that argument to be made—even
if it is something of a head-fake.
One of of Fox’s many skilled
stylistic moves is when we first
“see” the 13 year-old Jennifer.
Jennifer “remembers” her as
much more physically developed
(and played by a more mature
actress). Only when she’s shown
an actual photograph does the
film shift gears and introduce
Jennifer as the kid she truly was.
The Tale is a difficult film. I’ll
confess I wasn’t all that with it
during much of the first half.
I thought it meandered, over-
explained things and I found the
relationship between Dern and
Burstyn a bit phony.
This was, I now realise, setting
the stage for the fireworks of the
second half. Then there’s also the
scenes of what young Jennifer
called lovemaking, but everyone
else in the world will call rape.
A closing title card assures
that stunt doubles were used,
and while there is no nudity,
these scenes are extremely
uncomfortable. Fox shoots
Nélisse’s face in close-up
during the act, and though I do
believe in the power of art and
storytelling if the artist has the
goods, for some this will be a
bridge too far.
Jason Ritter’s Bill is never crass.
His character’s make-believe
openness (or who knows, maybe
it was real openness) is part of
what makes him appealing at
first to young Jennifer. Yet, I must
warn that some of the dialogue
he has during these sure-to-be-
controversial scenes turned me
I can’t repeat the lines in this
review, not because they are
vulgar, but more because I can’t
handle them coming out of my
fingertips. Not when I associate
them with the close-up reaction
shots Fox uses.
I want more people to see
The Tale because it’s such an
innovative, honest and important
film. It is a landmark, and Laura
Dern is absolutely extraordinary.
But I know for certain I’ll never
watch it again. (The Guardian)
in The Tale.
Mother of all #MeToo movies
...the scenes of what young
Jennifer called lovemaking...
everyone else will call rape.
A closing title card assures
that stunt doubles were
used, and while there
is no nudity, these
scenes are extremely
Fox shoots Nélisse’s
face in close-up
during the act, and
though I do believe
in the power of art...
for some this will
be a bridge too far
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