February 10, 2023 – I just happened to stumble across this powerful, 2018 award-winning HBO film (it streams on HBO Max) while searching for an entirely different film. The film I was looking for is a 2022 French film called “Closer.” I am still looking for a way to watch that elusive movie.
The film I found instead is “The Tale,” and it just might be even better than the film I was looking for. It is based on the personal experiences of its director, Jennifer Fox, and it unfolds like a mystery, in which documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox (played by Laura Dern of “The Last Jedi”) sets out to uncover repressed memories from her own past.
Jennifer is a successful woman dealing with some personal emotional issues, such as an unwillingness to make permanent emotional commitments, especially marriage. Her own investigation into her childhood experiences is about to reveal the source of some of her emotional problems.
Her life is disrupted by her mother, Nettie (played by Ellen Burstyn of “Pieces of a Woman”) who discovers stories written by Jennifer long ago when she was 13 years old. The stories are troubling, not only to Nettie, but to Nettie's teacher at the time, who wrote on one of the stories that it looked like adults were taking advantage of the young girl (even though Jennifer had claimed the story was fictional).
Jennifer avoids talking to her mother about this, but finally starts to look at the stories she wrote, and some related letters written to her, and she becomes increasingly troubled by them. The stories and letters are about her running coach, Bill Allens (played by Jason Ritter of “You're Not You”) and her horse riding instructor, Jane “Mrs. G” Gramercy (played by Elizabeth Debicki of “Tenet”).
Bill and Mrs. G both befriended Jennifer (Jenny) when she was 13 years old (young Jenny is played by Isabelle Nélisse of “It”) and was having trouble at home. One of five girls, she felt left out and unappreciated, while Bill and Mrs. G made her feel special, and loved. When Jennifer looks at photographs from that time, she is surprised to see how tiny she looked. She remembered herself as being bigger, and more sophisticated, at the time.
Jennifer has fond memories of this time of her life, and gets very defensive when her partner, Martin (played by Common, of “The Hate U Give”) finds and reads the stories and letters and immediately sees them as evidence of child abuse. She refuses to talk about it with Martin, but she does investigate these things in her own way.
Jennifer goes to visit Mrs. G (played as an older woman by Frances Conroy of “Joker”) who refuses to talk about Jennifer's concerns. She also talks to other women who attended Mrs. G's riding academy at the same time Jennifer did. She begins put the pieces of the puzzle together. She also begins to remember pain and emotional trauma from this time that she had suppressed for years.
It turns out that Jennifer's memories of this period of her life were a fantasy. She remembered herself as being more grown up and more in control of her relationships than she really was. As she investigates the twisted relationship between herself, Mrs. G and Bill Allens, she realizes that she was a child who was emotionally manipulated by these two adults.
This story unfolds like a fairly normal tale of childhood memories until it gets really upsetting very quickly. There are hints of emotional manipulation, but then the film directly confronts you with the ugly truth of what Bill and Mrs. G did to Jenny. Even later, we see the emotional pain inflicted on Jenny.
Director Jennifer Fox is an experienced documentary filmmaker. This film is her first venture into drama, but she also uses documentary film techniques to tell this story. She uses imaginary scenes where Jennifer, as an adult, questions characters as they were years earlier, including herself. Jennifer is able to use her imagination to confront herself, and others from her past, to discover what really happened.
Fox has made this into a film to help people like herself deal with child sexual abuse. It is not just about her own experience. This is a widespread issue with as many as 25 percent of girls and one out of every six boys being abused. High profile cases include the USA Gymnastics and related Michigan State University sex abuse scandals (Larry Nassar was convicted. He and others were involved in more than 150 claims of abuse) the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals (thousands of abusers and hundreds of thousands of victims) and the Boy Scouts of America sex abuse scandals (92,000 sex abuse claims).
Laura Dern, Common, Isabelle Nélisse, Ellen Burstyn, Elizabeth Debicki and Jason Ritter all give strong performances in this film. They are all very convincing, creating these strong relationships between these diverse characters. This is a powerful drama, well written, directed and acted. It rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.