Movie Reviews

The Tale – An Uncomfortable But Important Drama (Early Review)

From Sundance to HBO.

Synopsis: THE TALE follows Jennifer as she faces life-altering questions when a short story she wrote for school at age 13 forces her to re-examine her first sexual experience— and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. The film is based on award-winning writer-director Jennifer Fox’s own true story. (HBO)

Starring: Laura Dern, Elizabeth Debicki, and Jason Ritter

Writer: Jennifer Fox

Director: Jennifer Fox

Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 115mins

Trailer: 

Airs: May 26th at 10pm on HBO Canada (Canada)/HBO (United States)

It’s a shame that this film won’t be getting a theatrical release but at least since it will be broadcast on HBO, more people will have the chance to see one of the best films of the year so far. It’s also nice to see Laura Dern get a role in a film that is worthy of her many talents as she is definitely worth the price of admission here. Based on the true story of the film’s writer/director Jennifer Fox, Dern plays Fox as she is forced to reexamine her sexual past once a story she wrote as a 13 year old resurfaces.

The film alternated between an adult Fox (Dern) and a younger Fox (Isabelle Nélisse) as the adult Fox narrated by reading the story from her younger self. After having repressed her past experience, the now adult Fox searched for answers about her questionable relationship with a woman named Mrs. G (Debicki) and a man named Bill (Ritter) while staying at a horse farm during her summers. What seemed innocent at first began to unravel over time as the truth became more apparent. Fox was young and didn’t know any better which was why she was preyed on. 

The idea of a complex, ever-changing memory was a major theme here as details from Fox’s past would change and scenes would be framed differently according to her memory while the walls she had built for herself slowly came crashing down. Both versions of Fox were compelling to watch because of how similar they were to one another. With Fox’s experience as a documentary filmmaker, certain scenes had a documentary feel. In her attempts to find answers, she would interview all the prominent people of her past, including past and present incarnations. However, none were more powerful than when she would interview her younger self and her younger self would interview her back. 

The story was a slow burn and uncomfortable to watch at times. Instead of simply being a film about child molestation this was a deeper film about an adult woman trying to cope with and eventually overcome her childhood trauma. Despite all the sickening things that happened to Fox, the film showed a great amount of restraint here by not dwelling too much on the emotional side of it. Fox never allowed herself to be a victim, considering her own story like she would one of her subjects and never letting herself get too attached. However, the story was building up to an inevitable confrontation by the end which was both emotional and satisfying to watch though not as long as it should have been.

Ultimately, the best part of the film was Dern’s powerful performance as Fox. She delivers a fully committed performance as a strong-willed character who balanced a complex range of emotions brought on by repressed childhood trauma that she was finally coming to terms with while also determined to learn the truth behind what happened. She made it easy for us to feel for her character as we learned about all the things that happened to her. Debicki was solid as Mrs. G, however, Ritter and Nélisse delivered impressive performances as well as Bill and young Fox respectively. Ritter played against type as a charming predator and Nélisse was a young girl who yearned for the approval of adults.

Overall, this was an excellent and timely drama that may be uncomfortable to watch for some, however, it is a beautiful film with a very important message that deserves to be told about childhood trauma and memory. It’s a slow burn that was compelling to watch thanks to the great performances, especially Laura Dern as the lead.

Score: 9.5/10

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