The Tale is a 2018 American drama film written and directed by Jennifer Fox and starring Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabelle Nélisse, Common, Frances Conroy, and John Heard. It tells the story about Fox's own childhood sexual abuse and how it affects her later relationships. It premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and aired on HBO on May 26, 2018.
Film release poster
|Directed by||Jennifer Fox|
|Screenplay by||Jennifer Fox|
|Music by||Ariel Marx|
|Distributed by||HBO Films|
Jennifer Fox is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker and professor in her 40s when her mother, Nettie, calls her in alarm after discovering an essay she wrote when she was 13. The essay is about a "relationship" Jennifer had when she was 13 which she dismisses as upsetting her mother because her boyfriend was "older".
After re-reading the essay Jennifer begins to do research on that period in her life. She imagines herself as being older and sophisticated but is surprised at how small and childlike she appears in photos from that time. Jennifer's relationship began one summer when she went to an intensive horse training camp with three other girls. She lived with the beautiful and enigmatic Mrs. G, who also had Jenny and the girls run with professional coach Bill Allens, who was in his 40s. After the summer ends Mrs. G and Bill reveal to Jenny they are lovers.
After the camp, Jenny kept her horse with Mrs. G and continued to see her and Bill on the weekends. Eventually Jenny began spending time with Bill alone. He began sexually grooming her, until finally statutory-raping her, telling her that they were “making love”.
When Jennifer's partner finds letters written to her by Bill, he says that she was raped, but she refuses to see it that way, proclaiming that she is not a victim. However she slowly begins to question whether her recollections are accurate and eventually realizes despite her protests she had been exhibiting symptoms of being sexually abused for years. She goes to visit Mrs. G, who refuses to acknowledge her role in Jenny's abuse and asks her to leave.
As Jennifer continues to investigate that summer, she realizes that Bill and Mrs. G were probably grooming other girls. She remembers a college student named Iris Rose who worked for Mrs. G. Jennifer tracks Iris Rose down who tells her that she, Mrs. G and Bill had threesomes and that Mrs. G was actively involved in finding girls for Bill. This prompts Jennifer to remember that she was supposed to participate in group sex with Mrs. G, Bill and Iris one weekend. However Jenny, who threw up each time she was raped by Bill, had an anxiety attack and threw up the day before she was due to go away for the weekend, causing her mother to keep her at home. Realizing she no longer wanted to be in a relationship with Bill, Jenny called him and broke up with him, even as he pleaded with her to stay. Unlike Bill, Mrs. G coldly accepted Jenny's decision to remove her horse that weekend. Jenny wrote about her time with Bill in an essay for school (calling it a work of fiction) in which she proclaimed herself a hero, not a victim; this is the essay her mother finds at the beginning of the film.
Jennifer goes to an awards ceremony where Bill is being honored to confront him, spelling out the abuse in front of his wife and the other attendees. Bill denies everything and leaves. Jennifer has a panic attack and goes to the bathroom, and imagines sitting with her 13-year old self.
- Laura Dern as Jennifer Fox, Nettie's daughter and Martin's fiancée
- Isabelle Nélisse as Jenny Fox, age 13
- Jessica Sarah Flaum as Jenny Fox, age 15
- Ellen Burstyn as Nadine "Nettie" Fox, Jennifer's mother
- Laura Allen as Young Nettie
- John Heard as William P. Allens
- Jason Ritter as Bill Allens, Jennifer's running coach and Mrs. G's lover
- Frances Conroy as Jane Gramercy
- Elizabeth Debicki as Mrs. G, Jennifer's riding instructor and Bill's lover
- Common as Martin, Jennifer's fiancé
- Tina Parker as Franny
- Isabella Amara as Young Franny
On May 5, 2015, it was reported that Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Elizabeth Debicki, and Sebastian Koch would star in The Tale, written and directed by Jennifer Fox. It was set to begin principal photography that summer. On May 14, 2016, it was reported that the film was being shopped to foreign buyers at the Cannes Film Festival, and Common, Jason Ritter, Frances Conroy, and John Heard were announced as also being part of the cast. Filming began in Louisiana on October 20, 2015 and wrapped in December.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 99% based on 71 reviews, with an average rating of 9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Tale handles its extraordinarily challenging subject matter with sensitivity, grace, and the power of some standout performances led by a remarkable Laura Dern." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 90 out of 100, based on 26 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
|2018||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Television Movie||The Tale||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie||Laura Dern||Nominated|
|Independent Spirit Awards||Best First Feature||Jennifer Fox, Sol Bondy, Lawrence Inglee, Mynette Louie, Oren Moverman, Simone Pero, Reka Posta, Laura Rister, Regina K. Scully and Lynda Weinman||Nominated|||
|Best First Screenplay||Jennifer Fox||Nominated|
|Best Editing||Anne Fabini, Alex Hall and Gary Levy||Nominated|
|2019||Golden Globe Awards||Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film||Laura Dern||Nominated|||
|Satellite Awards||Best Television Film||The Tale||Won|||
|Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Film||Laura Dern||Nominated|
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