The Tale

On Saturday night, I went to visit and sleepover at my dear friend Arie’s newer home in Evanston. We had a girl’s night, which included face masks by Tony Moly, delicious and very healthy snacks prepared by Arie, and a couple of movies interrupted frequently by our typical disjointed chats, talking about everything in our lives and going on many, many tangents. Arie lives on beautiful tree-lined street in Evanston. When I first alighted the L train, I immediately noticed the lush green foliage and the fresh air; this is always a nice reprieve from the dense, smokey city air I’m accustomed to.

On our walks in the neighborhood with her cute Westie, Feta (or Fetters and Fettuccine as I found myself calling her), we were pointing out the different houses and what we enjoyed about each of them. We both mused that we would like a giant wraparound porch someday…

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Back at the house, Arie allowed me to pick our first movie, which was It. And no, I still have not finished the novel, I’m embarrassed to say. It was very creepy. Bill Skarsgård was excellent as Pennywise, as was the young actress, Sophia Lillis, playing Beverly Marsh. She had an extraordinary level of gravitas that to me, dwarfed all of the other child actors in the Loser’s Club. The clown makeup and special effects were also phenomenal. That said, my focus for this post is on the second movie we watched, that initially caught Arie’s eye (she is a Master’s in Clinical Social Work).

The Tale is an incredible film on HBO starring Laura Dern and a formidable supporting cast including Ellen Burnstyn, Jason Ritter, Frances Conroy, and Elizabeth Debicki. Based on real life events in documentary filmmaker and professor, Jennifer Fox’s life, this film is troubling, actually, deeply disturbing. At age 13, Jennifer is sexually abused systematically for about a year, with her 40 year old running coach posturing as her “boyfriend”. The movie begins though, as adult Jenny is hounded by phone calls from her mother who discovered a story, “The Tale”, she wrote for English class detailing the “relationship” with a much older man.

The film bounces between time periods; we see adult Jenny (Dern) and young, 13-year-old Jenny (Isabella Nélisse) in the 1970s. As a viewer, we get both a third person view of Jenny in addition to a second person perspective coming from adult Jenny, interrogating the different characters involved. In an interview with The Guardian, Fox says, “I wanted to tell a story about how a 13-year-old constructed the identity of this person that I became,” and, “There are multiple true narratives running at all times. I made myself a hero out of an event where I was clearly not that.”

Dern and Nélisse as adult and 13-year-old Jennifer Fox.

Many things troubled me about this story. The casting of Jason Ritter, a handsome and charismatic actor, in the role of her abuser was alarming and not the type of person you would conjure up when you think of a child molester. There were graphic (obviously simulated) depictions of the actual abuse and when you see young Jenny’s tiny, barely pubescent body with an adult man, it’s just horrifying. Finally, Dern brilliantly conveyed the confusion and trauma of coming to terms with the reality that in fact, she is a victim. No, he wasn’t a boyfriend. He wasn’t even a peer. He was a predator.

I highly recommend that you watch The Tale. It’s extremely well done; the artistic choices make sense and never felt gratuitous, just extremely sensitive and powerful. Days later, I’m still thinking about it and to me, that’s the sign of a good film.


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