Tabloid

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of five): *** 1/2

With Tabloid, Errol Morris turns his camera on the lurid life story of Joyce McKinney, a fetching young lady from a small town in North Carolina whose love for a Mormon man resulted in several bizarre international incidents. Before the decade-spanning story is over, McKinney finds herself mixed up in alleged kidnapping, aberrant sexual practices, a Christlike canine, ugly undergarments, and even cloning.

McKinney is another one of Morris’s ideal subjects. With films like The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War (for which he won an Oscar in 2004), Morris has made a career of giving unreliable narrators a forum to tell their versions of what happened. Morris judiciously gives his subjects enough rope to hang (or, in the case of Blue Line’s Randall Adams, exonerate) themselves.

Joyce McKinney made headlines in 1977 as a sex crazed maniac who allegedly kidnapped Mormon missionary Kirk Anderson, tied him to a bed, and – over the course of a long weekend – force fed him comfort food and made him have sex with her until she felt she was adequately inseminated.

Tabloid-Joyce-McKinney

McKinney’s version is, naturally, a little bit different. The way she puts it, one day McKinney was chastely cruising the streets of Mormon-saturated Salt Lake City in her convertible. Unwittingly, she set her sights on the man of her dreams: schlubby Kirk Anderson, a devoted Latter-Day Saint who (according to McKinney) lived under the iron thumb of both the church and his domineering mother. Thus began a rabid attachment that – to this day – has not yet unhinged its jaws. Joyce pursued Kirk, first in Salt Lake City (where he pledged to marry her) and ultimately to England, where the Mormon church sent Kirk as a missionary. The degree to which Joyce’s love was ever requited is a big part of the film’s mystery. Whatever Kirk’s feelings for Joyce, it is clear that something happened between them during that fateful weekend, when Kirk did in fact accompany Joyce on a trip to the English countryside. Morris’s mission is to nail down just what exactly happened.

Obviously, the journey Morris takes is rife with highly entertaining misdirection. Soon, the infamous British tabloid press is involved, digging up Joyce’s questionable past and turning her into an international celebrity.

The film is breezily paced and often hilarious. McKinney, who claims an 168 IQ, gains verbal steam as the film progresses and the allegations against her become more and more outrageous. “I can sure talk,” she quips. “Let me tell people what happened!” And she does, sticking very close to her own narrative that taxes plausibility. Even Morris can’t help but occasionally interject his own incredulous comments.

The less said about the plot and its cast of ridiculous characters, the better. There’s a nice twist about halfway in that I won’t reveal; suffice to say McKinney may not be the pure naïf she protests she is. The film plays like a lighter version of the similarly labyrinthine Forbidden Lie$. Morris uses silly documentary tropes – stock footage, sound effects, bold graphics – that I’d normally roll my eyes at but seem at home here. Like a good tabloid story, the film is a tawdry hybrid of fact and fiction and also a lot of fun.

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