We live in a tabloid-driven world, whether we like it or not. Although he has tackled many serious subjects (and finally won an Oscar for The Fog of War, his gut-wrenching portrait of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara), filmmaker Errol Morris has always had a fondness for life’s oddballs, having profiled everyone from the owner of a pet cemetery to a retired lion tamer. When he came upon the story of a former beauty queen who became a tabloid sensation in England during the late 1970s and then, improbably, popped up in the news three decades later in an entirely different (and wildly improbable) context, he—
—seized upon it for his latest film.
Joyce McKinney is an interviewer’s dream come true: outgoing, garrulous, articulate, dramatic, and extremely self-aware. She’s also nuts, and part of the game in watching Tabloid is trying to determine how much of what she says is true and how much derives from her imagination.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the content of this film, because the element of surprise is crucial to its enjoyment. Morris was fortunate enough to find a handful of other interviewees who could provide counterpoint to McKinney, including a couple of veteran British tabloid reporters who seem to delight in recounting their war stories and now-ancient misdeeds.
All of this is expertly orchestrated by Morris and his team, using clever graphics to blend interviews with vintage TV news footage, newspaper clippings and headlines. But despite its savvy presentation, the story is seedy and exceedingly silly, and after a while I lost patience with it. It’s bad enough that we can’t turn on television or glance at a magazine stand without being assaulted by idiocies of all sorts. This story may be innocuous by comparison, but I’m not sure it’s worth the investment of an hour and a half.
It’s not that McKinney isn’t interesting; so is a car wreck. I’d rather be watching something (or someone) else.