The Tale Never Stood a Chance

The team at Slate are concerned that everyone slept on The Tale, last year’s buzzed-about movie starring Laura Dern as the grown version of a young girl victimized by sexual abuse. After it emerged from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival as one of the most buzzed-about titles, particularly because of Dern’s performance, it was quickly snatched up by HBO, which debuted it in May of last year.

It did fade quickly from the cinematic conversation, never quite living up to the hype the buzz that came out of Sundance would have indicated or seemed to predict. A big part of the reason for that, I think, is because it was HBO that picked it up.

The Tale was the one big profile title acquired by the cable network coming out of last year’s Sundance and one of the few movies it’s picked up out of festivals in recent years. About a month out from its debut a campaign was finally launched that included a decent trailer that explained much of the story and a lackluster poster that simply reused one of the first publicity stills included in the Sundance coverage. An official website has offered resources for those affected by sexual abuse and information on free screenings for advocacy and support groups.

Netflix is essentially running the HBO model, mixing in an increasing number of original features and programs alongside the content it gets via licenses from other studios and producers. But right now, with the exception of shows like “Game of Thrones” and a few others, Netflix has the advantage of being buzzed about while HBO does not.

That’s why The Tale dropped off the radar relatively quickly. The platform that distributed it didn’t have the zeitgeist others do and didn’t bring that cache with it.

If Netflix had been the one offering it to audiences it would have come with a lot more buzz attached to it and might have been in the same conversation with The Kindergarten Teacher and other films that have brought new and underrepresented stories to the public.

This is not to blame HBO for mounting a lackluster campaign for the movie, it’s simply a representation of how the conversation has shifted in the last few years. Cable subscriptions aren’t the end-all-be-all they once were and are falling out of favor with the general public, replaced by streaming subscriptions and skinny bundles. It’s not where the kids are or where the media’s attention is currently turned.

What happened might be unfair to the movie, and because stories like this are seen as risky the underwhelming response to one may be held up as “proof” they don’t work. That’s the danger with all movies, shows or books that offer looks into groups and situations that haven’t been as mainstream as they deserve to be.

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