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Tuesday, July 24, 2018


(Laura Dern & Isabelle Nelisse)

Powerful "fictional memoir" is a timely addition to the #MeToo global campaign. (Review by Patrick Compton)

Jennifer Fox’s powerful "fictional memoir", about the sexual and psychological abuse of a 13-year-old girl, is a timely addition to the #MeToo global campaign.

Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the first screening, and Monday’s second show was the final one. The good news, however, is that this HBO-produced movie is scheduled to be shown on M-Net in August, when it should attract a much wider audience.

In many ways this is a surprisingly heartening film. While the abuse is dreadful, we can be relieved that it did not psychologically and emotionally destroy the young girl; on the contrary, it served to make her stronger, a point that the movie underlines as it reaches its dramatic climax. People will be aware, of course, that the abuse of young children can be far more destructive to people later in life, something that has been savagely illustrated in England over the last two years with allegations that “non-recent abuse" has been visited by various coaches on children at more than 330 football clubs.

Fox, a New Yorker who has been making documentaries for more than 30 years, has made a brave, self-revelatory movie – her feature film debut – that is clearly based on her own experiences, or as she puts it in the opening credits: “The story you’re about to see is true – as far as I know.”

The movie has two time frames. Laura Dern, who gives a superb performance, plays Jennifer Fox in the present. A middle-aged film-maker and academic in a happy relationship, Jennifer receives a panicked phone call from her mother (a fine cameo by Ellen Burstyn) saying that she has unearthed a school essay she wrote that contains some disturbing information. Dern, initially baffled, begins to engage with the issue by slowly recalling the events that occurred. Thus begins an investigation in which she visits childhood friends as well as a now old Mrs G (Frances Conroy)

A quiet, lonely child, virtually ignored in a big household, young Jennifer (brilliantly played by Isabelle Nelisse) is delighted to spend time with the beautiful Mrs G (Elizabeth Debicki) and her lover, Bill (Jason Ritter) at a Carolina horse farm. There, she is made to feel special as she learns to ride and goes for country jogs. Initially all goes well, but, as audiences will expect, the delicate emotional balance between the threesome that enables the girl to feel a glowing sense of self-worth is ultimately shattered.

This is not about somebody who has shut out a terrible early experience, but rather a movie in which the central character re-considers a series of events that she had long considered her first “proper” relationship.

Abuse of children is all about unequal power relations, in which the older, more experienced partner is able to convince the person he is abusing that what is happening is normal or, as in this film, impressively unusual. The sickening reality, of course, is very different.

If I have a criticism of this film, it is that the climax, when the older Jennifer confronts her abuser (played by John Heard), doesn’t visit enough damnation on him. Perhaps I’ve seen too many movies, but rarely have I wanted to see a character punched on the nose more avidly. – Patrick Compton