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Tabloid  (2011)
2 Stars
Directed by Errol Morris.
2011 – 87 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual content and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 13, 2011.
With the Internet having worked its way into the mainstream, is the process of becoming a media-built celebrity something that primarily only came about within the last fifteen years or so? 1977 might have been a different time, but UK rags nevertheless ensured that former small-town beauty queen Joyce McKinney would become infamous. Directed by celebrated documentarian Errol Morris, "Tabloid" embraces its mixed media subject matter by stirring together talking-head interviews with home movies, old stock footage, animation, film clips, and newspaper headlines that often run in stark contrast to the already widely varying onscreen points-of-view. The finicky nature of what attention and fame can bring to one's life and ego is what Morris has set out to explore. As absorbing as it is here to watch the twisted story unfold, it also doesn't add much insight to the discussion. Like a sensationalistic flavor-of-the-month crime or Hollywood scandal, the film is sure to capture the viewer's attention while it plays out, but is just as destined to lose its luster the second the saga in question has run its course.

If truth is stranger than fiction, what happens when the lines between the real and fabricated are blurred? Born in North Carolina and holding an IQ of 168, Joyce McKinney moved to Utah in the '70s and fell head over heels in love with a devout Mormon named Kirk Anderson. As Joyce tells it, when Kirk suddenly skipped town to fulfill his missionary work, she gathered together friend Keith May, pilot Jackson Shaw and bodyguard Gil Parker to help her get him back. Following three days of hiding out in the countryside, making plans to marry, and engaging in non-stop sex—a major no-no in the Mormon community—Kirk lost his courage. He returned to the "cult" and came out with accusations to the press that he had been kidnapped, tied spread-eagle to a bedpost, and continually raped. Overnight, Joyce was placed in the spotlight and deemed a sexual deviant. The die, as it were, was cast, no matter if Kirk was telling the truth or not.

"Tabloid" fascinates, but almost in a trashy beach novel sort of way. Joyce McKinney's life is anything but ordinary and only gets weirder as it goes—wait for the section about dog cloning, because it's in there, too—yet things are always so out-there and far-flung that either she's a compulsive liar or has simply had one of the most unique lives imaginable. The trouble with writing her off is not only in her personable attitude—think a softer Nancy Grace or an amalgamation of Sissy Spacek in 1980's "The Coal Miner's Daughter" and Ronee Blakley in 1975's "Nashville"—but in the knowledge that she frequently has evidence to back up her loony claims. How she has seemingly endless access to money is another story, and director Errol Morris' choice to not dig more deeply into her family and background renders her an enigma. Maybe no one will ever truly know who the real Joyce McKinney is—Kirk Anderson, for the record, refused to be interviewed for the film—but "Tabloid" at least makes the audience's less-than-probing time with her interesting.
© 2011 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman