Matt Goldberg in Collider:
The Tale is one of the bravest and smartest movies I’ve ever seen. Writer-director Jennifer Fox dives into the sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager, and proceeds to interrogate her own memories with unflinching clarity. Furthermore, rather than simply stick to her background as a documentary filmmaker and try to tell her story in that medium, she wisely decides to make a narrative feature that gives her the tools to more effectively dive into both the abuse she suffered and the investigation to find the truth behind her own memories. With an outstanding cast, led by the incomparable Laura Dern, at her disposal, Fox weaves a captivating and gut-wrenching story about the lies told to us, and the lies we tell ourselves. Documentarian and professor Jennifer (Dern) comes home from working on a project to get a frantic series of voicemails from her mother Nettie (Ellen Burstyn). While cleaning out some boxes, Nettie discovered a story Jennifer wrote when she was thirteen recounting a romantic relationship she had with her running coach Bill (Jason Ritter) and riding instructor Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki). Although Jennifer acknowledges she had a relationship with an older man, it isn’t until she starts reading her own story closer that she starts to discover her own flawed assumptions, thinking she was more mature when pictures show a small, plain 13-year-old Jenny (Isabelle Nélisse). Rattled by how her memories may have betrayed her, Jennifer starts an investigation to uncover the truth behind her original story.
In the age of #MeToo, The Tale shows how every story of sexual abuse is unique even if the predators always prey on more than one victim. Fox is fearless in showing the details of her story, and I imagine that some scenes could trigger viewers with a history of abuse, whether it’s the way that Mrs. G and Bill work to lower Jenny’s defenses or the deeply disturbing sexual intercourse between Bill and Jenny. Fox presents these moments because the whole point of The Tale is about a character discovering the truth as best she can remember, and to shy away from upsetting moments would be a disservice to herself and to other victims of sexual abuse.