[Sundance 2018] The Tale Review: Breathtaking, Uncomfortable, and Incredibly Vital

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The Tale is a deeply personal and at times hard-to-watch story of a woman coming to terms with her own sexual assault as a child.

Director: Jennifer Fox
Summary: Jennifer, a globetrotting journalist and professor, lives an enviable life with her boyfriend in New York City. That is, until her mother finds a story Jennifer wrote at age 13 depicting a "special" relationship with two adult coaches. Reading the yellowed pages of "The Tale," Jennifer discovers the coded details she composed 40 years earlier are quite unlike her recollection. Deeply shaken yet determined to square her version of events with the truth, Jennifer sets out to find her two coaches. Returning to the Carolina horse farm where so much transpired, Jennifer's gangly yet tenacious seventh-grade self reawakens, and the loving stories she told herself for decades begin to unravel.

The Tale
Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Kyle Kaplan.

It's very hard for people to comes to terms with terrible things that have happened to them in the past. For most of us that means coming to terms with memories, but for Jennifer (Laura Dern), her childhood may not have played out the way she remembers. When she sees the way her mother (Ellen Burstyn) reacts to her writings as a young girl, she begins to doubt if things really happened as she recalls them.

There are a lot of things that make The Tale hard to watch. For one, there's the fact that they make sure actress Isabelle Nélisse, who plays Jenny as a child, looks as much her age as possible (she is 14 now, likely 13 at the time of filming) so we know how young she is. The film also doesn't flinch when it comes to the actual sexual assault as Jennifer goes through her story and memories to try to piece all of this together.

The Jennifer we meet in the movie is also a documentary filmmaker, and we see her approach her life as if she were doing a documentary on it. That means we have some fourth wall-breaking moments where Jennifer addresses the people, including herself at more than one point, as she tries to put all of the events together. The story is already hard to watch, but it gets worse by the end when you realize Jennifer Fox we see on screen is telling the story of Jennifer Fox the director and writer. We have just watched a woman lay her childhood sexual assault bare in the most unflinching way possible. It shows how it can take a lifetime to come to terms with assault like this, and it addresses the problem with asking a rape victim why they didn't go to the police right away. As the movie goes on, we learn more and more about why Jennifer does the things she does and why she had to deal with the rape in the way she did.

The movie is across-the-board good, with absolutely astounding performances by Dern and Nélisse. The movie says at the end that a body double was in place for all of the sexual scenes, which, considering the subject material, was absolutely the way to go. As we watch this story unfold, we see how people react the idea of sexual assault and we see Dern's Jennifer come to terms with all of it. The direction is well done and it's incredibly brave of Fox to put such a personal story up on screen for all of us to see. The fourth wall-breaking transitions can be a bit hard to swallow until you realize the point of them. There are also a few clunky lines here and there, but it all culminates to one hell of an ending. This movie got a standing ovation for a reason.

The Tale is the type of movie that will leave you uncomfortable and possibly unable to form words. It'll stay with you, get under your skin, and break like glass — but it will also push topics of conversation surrounding how we talk about childhood trauma and sexual assault into the light.

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About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. She loves movies, television, and comics. She's a member of the UFCA and the GALECA. Feminist. Writer. Nerd. Follow her on twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on instagram. She's also a co-host at The Nerd Dome Podcast. Listen to it at http://www.nerddomepodcast.com

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