Film: “The Tale”; Director: Jennifer Fox; Cast: Laura Dern, Isabelle Nelisse, Ellen Burstyn and Jason Ritter; Rating: *** ½
I came away shaken but not stirred by this true-life account of a 40-something investigative journalist (the film opens in a crowded part of rural India where the protagonist films India’s mythical chaos) probing into her puberty to uncover uncomfortable truths from her past.
The sobering disturbing account is writer-director Jennifer Fox’s own remembrance of stings past as she tries to piece together the puzzle of her sexual awakening at an age when she was enthralled by adult beauty. And well, didn’t know any better.
The film is a fascinating study of how we distort self-memory for self-preservation. Insults and even worse, are sublimated in the quest of a validity to one’s self-esteem.
So it is with Jennifer (played with habitual persuasiveness by Laura Dern) who has long forgotten a pubescent encounter with a charming sports coach Bill Allens (Jason Ritter) and his immaculately beautiful partner (Elizabeth Debicki). She sees them as portraits of physical perfection.
The distortions come much later.
While Jennifer has convinced herself that her encounter with the coach at age 13 was an epic romance, it now appears he was just a suave pervert raping a child.
Though the film manages to strip through the delusional folds that Jennifer has cocooned her life into, her actual seduction and rape do not come across as strongly as they should have.
Perhaps, the directorial mistake here was to look at the cheesy coach’s outward sophistication only through the eyes of the besotted 13-year-old.
Even the rape is thereby sublimated, so that we see more of a child justifying the barbaric act rather than the act in all its naked savagery.
Curiously, the film ends with a disclaimer stating that the child in the sexual act was actually an adult. Much in the same way that we get disclaimers about no animals being harmed during the course of a shooting.
Somewhere in the quest for that balance and axis between memory and its distortion, “The Tale” tilts into a kind of rose-tinted hazy account of a horrific aberration where the protagonist’s psychological distortions affect the film’s tone seriously.
I would have liked to see the coach pulled up and shamed as a child rapist.
Jennifer’s end-encounter with her long-lost tormentor is ridiculously trite, shrill and fleeting.
Maybe this is how the big revelations in real life end. But that’s where cinema comes in. To make sure the whimper of an anti-climax is sublimated into a big eruption of drama.
That feeling of delayed justice is denied to Jennifer Fox’s story. A pity.