The Tale (2018)
A review by Shlomoh Sherman
May 31, 2018

Read about The Tale On the Internet Movie Data Base

The Tale (2018)
Director: Jennifer Fox
Writer: Jennifer Fox
Stars: Elizabeth Debicki, Laura Dern, John Heard, Common
Plot Summary: An investigation into one woman's memory as she is forced to re-examine
her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.
Plot Keywords: repressed memories - woman - sexual child abuse
Genres: Drama - Mystery - Thriller
Certificate: TV-MA
Parents Guide: See below
Country: USA - Germany
Language: English
Release Dates:
January 20, 2018 - USA - (Sundance Film Festival)
April 27, 2018 - USA - (Tribeca Film Festival)
May 26, 2018 - USA - (TV premiere)
Filming Locations: Los Angeles, California, USA, Shreveport, Louisiana, USA
Company Credits:
Production Co: Gamechanger Films, A Luminous Mind Production, Blackbird Films, ONE TWO Films, Weather Vane Productions
Distributor: Home Box Office (HBO) (2018) (USA)
Technical Specs:
Runtime: 114 min
Sound Mix: Dolby Digital
Color: Color
1 nomination: Sundance Film Festival, 2018 Nominee Jennifer Fox, Grand Jury Prize


Every Monday I search TV Guide to see which new movies will be on during the current week. Last week I saw that HBO was running a film done this year, THE TALE with Laura Dern. The preview said it was a story about a documentarian's self-investigation of events in her life as a young teen, and the possible devastating effects of those events on her life. I have been a fan of Laura Dern since she began her acting career, and of course, as I stated in my review of CHAPPAQUIDDICK, a fan of her father, Bruce Dern.

What I didn't realize was that this movie is very disturbing in many ways. It is essentially the story of the documentarian, Jennifer Fox's sexual abuse as a young child!

It was bad enough seeing this poor kid being molested but when, at the end of the movie, the audience discovers that this is a true story, you can understand how truly disturbing it is.

The fact is that the sex scenes between the 40-year-old man and the 13-year-year-old girl are both explicit and graphic, something I don't believe I have ever seen before in a movie.

I do not remember seeing Isabelle Nélisse, who plays the young Jenny, before but apparently I have since she appeared in 3 episodes of THE STRAIN as a young girl, Emma Arnot. She also appeared in the 2013 horror film, MAMA as well as the 2017 horror film, IT. Isabelle was born in 2003 so she is now 15 years old but on film, she appears younger, actually 13 which is probably why she was chosen to play the 13 year old girl in this movie. The L.A. Times reports that she was 11 years old when early filming began. I am aware that actors who are minors have to have parental consent to do any movie so I am wondering - what were her parents thinking when they okayed her playing a 13-year-old sexually mistreated by an adult man and his girlfriend?

Jenny is 13 years old, and her parents send her to a summer camp where she will learn to ride and be coached in running. Her 40-year-old track coach, Bill, slowly leads her into a sexual relationship with him. Jenny is naive and considers their romance to be consensual; she calls Bill her first boyfriend. Bill has a girlfriend, simply called Mrs.G, who is Jenny's riding instructor. We learn later in the film that it is Mrs.G who procures young girls for Bill, and who encourages the girls to have threesomes with her and Bill.

It is when Jennifer is in her 40s that she realizes that the relationship was one of sexual abuse. Her memory of the childhood experience begins to alter when her mother, wonderfully played by Ellen Burstyn, is cleaning the house and stumbles across a story written by the young Jenny about her summer experience with Bill and Mrs.G. When confronted by her mother about the story, Jennifer begins a dialogue with her mother and begins a journey to find Bill and Mrs.G in order to confront them and to learn about their own memories of that summer and to understand what motivated two adults to take advantage of the innocence of a teenage girl.

Jennifer's fiance feels protective of her and cautions her to go slowly, and even wants to accompany her in her search for the sexual criminals. But she refuses his help, telling him that she has to do this on her own.

With the emotional support of her mother, Jennifer pursues the two who violated her and finally meets up with Bill at a party in which he is being honored as a teacher of children. The scene is explosive. I urge you to see the film for yourself - but be warned. What you have read here is true. So if you think that watching a 40-year-old child molester doing his dirty work will upset you, leave the room during those scenes. Believe me. They upset me plenty.

Toward the end of the film, there is a scene in which Jennifer confronts her 13-year-old self about her involvement with Bill. Jenny retorts, "You want me to be some pathetic victim. Well, you know what? I'm not. I'm not the victim of this story, I'm the hero. He fell apart, not me."

Actor Jason Ritter and actress Isabelle Nélisse from the film "The Tale," photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Below is an excerpt from NJ Walker's IMDB May 27, 20180 review:

Discovering the truth -
This was put together so well. You are with the character the whole way as she discovers herself and what really happened back in the day. I really wanted to know more about her current life - but for her - she does what is needed to wrap her world around her newfound memories.

KUDOS TO Jason Ritter for playing the loathsome Bill effectively; Jason is the son of John Ritter.
KUDOS TO Laura Dern as Jennifer Fox; as stated above, I have been a fan of Laura's for many years
KUDOS TO John Heard as the older BIll; John has been in so many films that I enjoy; I remember him fondly as Bette Midler's boyfriend in BEACHES
KUDOS TO Ellen Burstyn as Nettie, Jenny's mom; this amazing actress has had a long, successful career. She is best remembered by me in THE EXORCIST and ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, for which she won an Academy Award.
KUDOS TO Common who plays Jennifer's fiance when she is an adult; he remarked that "working on the movie had served as an 'awakening' for him — forcing him to confront his own role in the #MeToo movement; 'I'm really trying to learn and say, How can we change this culture for real?'" First known as a rapper who became one of the more prominent voices in hip-hop's new millennium renaissance, Common later transitioned into acting. He is best remembered by me for his role in the TV series, HELL ON WHEELS.
KUDOS TO Isabelle Nélisse as young Jenny. OMG! - what can I possibly say about this young lady that will praise her enough for her talent? It HAD to have taken a lot out of her to do this taxing role. Look for her in future successes. May she break many legs!

Trivia: This was John Heard's final film. I report with sorrow that he died July 21, 2017. The film's release date was January of 2018.


MPAA Rated PG-13

Violence & Gore:
Category not evaluated

Category not evaluated

Alcohol, Drugs & Smoking:
Category not evaluated

Frightening & Intense Scenes:
Category not evaluated

Spoilers - This Parents Guide item below may give away important plot points.
Sex & Nudity:
A man has intercourse with a young girl in several scenes which is shocking.
He seduces her and has her kiss his chest.
Oral sex is implied.
All scenes involving sex with a minor are performed by a body double yet the filming of these scenes is graphic and explicit, and appear to show an adult man actually having sex with a minor.

Related News
Laura Dern gives one of the performances of the year so far in “The Tale”
by Joey Magidson -
By and large, the 2018 Sundance Film Festival was considered to be one that wouldn’t have much of an impact come Oscar season. Most years, at least one or two movies end up in play for Academy Awards. This year, however, there didn’t seem to be that sort of a lineup, especially once things began screen. Sure, there are contenders that could still surprise, but nothing seemed to be obvious. There was one interesting exception though, and that’s The Tale, which drew incredible buzz for star Laura Dern. The film was then oddly acquired by HBO, which premiered it over the weekend. Now, she’ll contend for Emmy and Golden Globe love instead of the Oscars. The movie is about as dark a drama as it gets. The vague IMDb description is as follows: “An investigation into one woman’s memory as she is forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.”
Full article at

Will acclaimed turn in ‘The Tale’ earn Ellen Burstyn her ninth Emmy Awards nomination?
by Andrew Carden Gold Derby
Will acclaimed turn in ‘The Tale’ earn Ellen Burstyn her ninth Emmy Awards nomination? With an Oscar, a Tony Award and two Emmy Awards on her mantle, Ellen Burstyn has, over the past half century, been a true awards season favorite. This year, with her turn in HBO’s “The Tale,” Burstyn is poised to add even more recognition to her resume.
The autobiographical film, written and directed by Jennifer Fox, earned rave reviews earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled to premiere on HBO on May 26. “The Tale” follows Fox (portrayed by Laura Dern), a professor and documentary filmmaker whose life his rattled after her mother (Burstyn) discovers a story Fox wrote at age 13 about a relationship she had with her running coach (Jason Ritter) and horseback riding instructor (Elizabeth Debicki). The revelation forces Fox to dig deeper into her memories to uncover the truths she has been suppressing for so many years.

Full article at

The Los Angeles Times had the following to say about THE TALE -
Due in part to its graphic verbal and physical depiction of the abuse Fox says she suffered, the movie has left festival goers shell shocked. An end title card states: "Based on 'The Tale' written by Jenny Fox, age 13. Identifiable elements of characters, places and events have been changed in the film ... The film debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and was acquired for release by HBO, at an unexpectedly timely moment — in the midst of the #MeToo movement, when the culture is grappling with how to deal with sexual harassment and assault."
Full article at

The scenes of Bill creepily seducing Jennifer in a series of carefully orchestrated moves are infuriating and horrific. Writer-director Fox refuses to take the comfortable route by only hinting at the physical abuse. (Adult body doubles were used for the rape scenes.) The moment when the adult Jennifer sees Bill (now played by John Heard) for the first time in 35 years is brutal and raw and uncompromising.
Full Chicago Sun Times article at

'The Tale' Jennifer Fox on Putting Herself in This True Story, Choosing HBO Over Theaters, and What's Next?
See video at [contains spoilers]

Read about The Tale On the Internet Movie Data Base

Credited cast:
Elizabeth Debicki ... Mrs. G
Laura Dern ... Jennifer
John Heard ... Bill - Older
Jason Ritter ... Bill
Ellen Burstyn ... Nettie
Frances Conroy ... Mrs. G - Older
Common ... Martin
Laura Allen ... Nadine
Chelsea Alden ... Samantha
Isabella Amara ... Franny
Isabelle Nélisse ... Jenny
Matthew Rauch ... Aaron
Tina Parker ... Fran
Jaqueline Fleming ... Margie
Scott Takeda ... Mr. Watada

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