Following a true story based on the events of director Jennifer Fox’s life, The Tale is a foreboding piece of film, accepting altered memories and the lies we tell ourselves and our loved ones solely as a means of survival. The dread that takes place from the first few frames is mesmerising, weaving in the anticipation of disaster throughout the biographical piece. A film all about memory is expectantly going to have a few holes here and a few refusals there, and it merely adds to the depth of this HBO Films adaptation of such a personal experience, one that looks to delve into the mind of a child abuse survivor, and how they come to terms with understanding the impact of this on a mind that has locked away the harrowing truth for decades.
The Tale follows Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern), a documentary filmmaker that begins to uncover her past after a prying mother reveals letters and mementoes from Fox’s life as a thirteen-year-old. Dern’s performance intercut with scenes of the younger Fox, portrayed by Isabelle Nélisse gives a great mixture of foreboding moments and truly stunning acting. Dern has always been a show-stealer, but The Tale offers her some truly heavy-hitting material, bringing out the very best in her as a performer. She handles the role with a certain grace, one that manages to understand and respect the real-life story, but also one that makes for an engaging and interesting experience. The story is focused primarily on its notions of surrendering yourself to easy lies rather than harsh truths, an incredibly tormented story of self-reflection begins to unfold.
Holding within it some truly amazing performances, including a final farewell to the late John Heard, The Tale is filled with perfect acting that handle the story with the grace and respect it deserves. Heard only features for a brief scene toward the closing moments of the film, but the impact felt by his delivery and the uncomfortableness of the situation is an undeservingly tragic scene. Dern again highlights her mesmerising performance, leaning on the supporting cast throughout the film. It’s a rather impressive supporting cast too, with Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter, Ellen Burstyn and Frances Conroy all providing formidable caretaker roles, propping up Dern’s leading performance as best they can.
An impressive cast makes for some uncomfortable scenes, most of it rallying around Dern’s stellar performance. Jennifer Fox’s life is put right into the spotlight, her strong direction brings her troubled childhood and later reconciliation to light in unflinching detail. It’s a rather bold piece to assemble, to recount an event of your life that will have no doubt caused so much long-term harm. The Tale is a reverent recount of a horrible moment in the life of someone that has shunted these memories down into the recesses of their mind for so long, until a chance encounter brings them surging back to the surface. By all means worth a watch for how horrible a true story it is, it doesn’t revel in the horror or play it up for drama, there’s no need when the true details are excruciatingly dire to begin with.