Saturday, January 27, 2018

Sundance with Abe: The Tale

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

The Tale
Directed by Jennifer Fox
U.S. Dramatic Competition

There has been a recent wave of revelations of sexual harassment and assault within Hollywood and in the greater social media world thanks to the #metoo campaign and brave people coming forward to tell their stories. It’s not an easy process for someone to share a deeply damaging and horrific event from their past, and many people wait years to tell anyone if they even share it at all. After much time has passed, it’s understandably difficult to remember the specifics of what happened, and how things played out exactly becomes less certain.

Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) is a successful journalist who lives in New York City with her boyfriend (Common). Her rapid-pace life slows down when her mother (Ellen Burstyn) unearths journals that she kept as a thirteen-year-old which detail an extensive romantic – and sexual – relationship with Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki) and Bill (Jason Ritter), two adult coaches with whom she spent a summer. As she searches for answers in the present, the events of her past play out as thirteen-year-old Jenny (Isabelle Nélisse) experiences events that, in retrospect, she finds extremely troubling.

This is not an easy film to watch, even for those who have not been victims of sexual assault. A title card in the film’s end credits reassures viewers that any scene involving a minor and a sexual act was filmed with an adult body double, since the film spares no uncomfortable moments in its portrayal of Jenny’s memories. The visual presentation of Mrs. G and Bill is striking and glamorous, standing out in young Jenny’s mind and contrasting deeply with the stark reality that she encounters when reexamining those events in the present. What she can’t recall correctly doesn’t diminish the impact of her experience, which she comes to realize has severely impacted her life.

Dern, who recently won accolades for her role in “Big Little Lies,” which tackled abuse in its own way, is a good fit to play the inquisitive, serious-minded woman trying to piece together what happened to her as a girl. Debicki and Ritter deliver strong performances as the manipulative objects of her adolescent obsession, and Nélisse is particularly good. This is definitely the moment for this film, which felt all the more powerful for this reviewer when Fox’s name showed up as the director in the end credits with thirteen-year-old Jenny credited as the writer, affirming its status as a true story, making it infinitely more emphatic. Even though it’s not a perfectly-constructed film, it’s still a valid and vital one.


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