Hands down the most talked-about film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was The Tale, writer/director Jennifer Fox’s brilliant drama that also served as her own #MeToo testimonial. Based on her own experiences, the film stars Laura Dern as Fox, a woman who starts to uncover memories from her childhood involving sexual abuse, when for all these years she’d simply been telling herself she had a relationship with a slightly older man when she was a teenager. The film chronicles the fallibility of memory, especially when it comes to abuse, and in the process serves as a deeply empathetic tale that allows those lucky enough not to have experienced something like this to understand how it can take years to fully understand what exactly happened, and how the manipulation from abusers gets ingrained over time.
Coming out of Sundance it’s usually too early to make Oscar predictions, but I had The Tale earmarked for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Dern), Supporting Actress (Elizabeth Debicki), and Editing consideration. Well, those are now out the window, as Variety reports that The Tale is now heading straight to HBO.
Indeed, HBO Films has secured distribution rights to The Tale, premiering it on HBO where it will be eligible for the Emmy Awards. Fox had this to say about the decision in a statement:
“It has always been my intent to find an engaged distribution partner who deeply understands the wide reach of the project, not just as a film, but also for the impact it can have on a larger global conversation. “In a world in which stories like mine have often been pushed into the darkness, no one has been better at shining a light on storytelling and important social issues than HBO. I am overjoyed to be able to take The Tale out into the world with such a vibrant and engaged team.”
It’s impossible to know what kind of conversations the Tale producers were having with distributors, and indeed it’s already a hard sell as the movie features explicit sex scenes involving a grown man and a 13-year-old girl utilizing a body double. There was always a question over who would be brave enough to distribute this film, and if that distributor would ask for cuts to these particular scenes, so it’s possible HBO offered the best option in terms of not messing with the content of the film.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bummed about The Tale not heading to theaters. It’s an important film, but it’s also one of the most unsettling movie-watching experiences I’ve ever had. I do hope that if people watch The Tale on HBO they won’t be tempted to switch it off when things get uncomfortable—the key to this movie is that it is uncomfortable, but it’s important to experience this to come to just the slightest understanding of what it’s like to suffer sexual abuse.
So, unless HBO strikes some kind of theatrical distribution deal, this takes The Tale out of the running for next year’s Oscar season, and given the somewhat thin lineup at Sundance this year it’ll be interesting to see if we go without a Sundance movie making the Best Picture cut. There’s almost always one (this year it’s Call Me by Your Name and Get Out), and I had my money on The Tale as a nearly surefire contender.
But the good news is, if you subscribe to HBO you’ll get to see one of the best films of the year—and one of the bravest films ever made—this year, guaranteed.