Jennifer Fox’s The Tale stars Laura Dern as, well, Jennifer Fox. That, in a sense, is the most unsettling thing about the movie, knowing just how real this is, just how much of herself the director is baring to us. A disclaimer at the beginning cautions us that the film is certified TV-MA because it depicts rape, but we’ve seen rape on film before, and while it has been more shocking and more horrifying in other depictions, it has never been this unnerving, which is due in large part to the intimacy the director has built with her audience.
Jenny Fox is a documentarian living in a happy relationship with her longtime boyfriend (played by Common), and spends her time going through candid footage of interviews she’s taken for documentaries and teaching classes on making documentaries. One day, her mother (Ellen Burstyn) finds a story she’d written as a teenager that disturbs her, so she mails it over for Jenny to read. The story concerns her encounter one summer with two adults, Bill (Jason Ritter) and Mrs G (Elizabeth Debicki), who taught her running and horseriding respectively, and gave her an escape from her tumultuous home life.
And this is where it starts to get complicated. The adult Jenny describes these events from her recollection as benign, even positive. She claims to have had a loving, consensual relationship with an older man (Bill) when she was 15. If the age difference is called into question, her simple reply is “it was the 70s!”. But as she starts to read the story and dig in to