CAPSULE: TABLOID (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Errol Morris

FEATURING: Joyce McKinney

PLOT: The strange but true story of Joyce McKinney, the former Miss Wyoming who caused a

Still from Tabloid (2010)

tabloid sensation in Britain in 1977 when she was convicted of kidnapping a Mormon missionary, tying him up, and forcing him to have sex with her for three days.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Joyce McKinney, the subject of this documentary, is as odd and eccentric a woman as you’ll find outside of an institution, but the film itself isn’t otherwise weird.

COMMENTS:  “I don’t see what a 32-year-old sex-with-manacles case has to do with cloned puppies,” opines Joyce McKinney as the third act of Tabloid dawns.  The only connection between those two disparate headlines, of course, is McKinney herself, who, if she isn’t crazy, at least attracts crazy to herself like a cloned puppy attracts fleas. Now in her sixties, the former beauty queen still has a sweet old country gal drawl and a disarming charm that makes her, in oddball documentarian Errol Morris’ revival of a long dead scandal, a Tabloid star.  After winning the title of Miss Wyoming, McKinney’s story begins in earnest when she falls in love and plans to marry a handsome young Mormon in Utah.  One day (as she tells it), her beau simply disappears without warning or notice.  She tracks him to London where he is serving his two year Mormon mission, assembles a gang of bodyguards and a freelance pilot to track him down, and leaves for England with thirteen suitcases full of disguises and surveillance gear.  The sexagenarian ex-sexpot has consistently maintained that the liaison between her and her Latter Day Saint loverboy in a cottage in Devon was not only consensual, but one of the world’s great love stories: she deprogrammed her brainwashed lover with a “honeymoon” weekend of sex and back rubs, before the Church got their hooks back into him and turned him on her.  Once she’s put on trial, archival footage and testimony by journalists involved in the case paint a picture of a woman who loves the limelight almost as much as she loves abducting sex slaves.  Things heat up even further when the press digs up startlingly juicy details from her shady past and splays them on the cover of the Daily Mirror.  Disillusioned with notoriety, she skips bail and flies back to North America disguised as a deaf-mute.  Decades later, still pining for the lost love of her life, the once-gorgeous McKinney remains an old maid and a virtual hermit, comforted only by the unconditional love of her pit bull Booger and his eight clones.  Since the victim in the case has retired to normal life and refuses to be interviewed, and her primary accomplice is dead, the story is told almost entirely from McKinney’s viewpoint.  But the lack of rebuttal testimony doesn’t make her version of events much more believable; even before she explains how she trained her dog to dial 9-1-1 using a telephone with extra-large buttons, McKinney’s not a very credible witness.  But even though you may not buy her story, you may find yourself having a harder time doubting her sincerity; she ironically muses that “sometimes you can tell yourself a lie for so long that you start to believe it.”  The remarkable thing about Tabloid is how likable and harmless McKinney appears on screen; she comes off more as a grandmotherly type reminiscing about the good old days through rose colored glasses than like a multiple felon inventing self-serving justifications for her crimes.  The tale is told almost entirely via interviewees speaking directly to the camera, although Morris assembles a few witty collages from torn newspaper clippings to fill in the extra spaces.  The issue of the British press’ exploitation of the whole salacious affair (which the dubbed the “Mormon sex in chains” case) is touched upon, but Tabloid isn’t an indictment of trashy gossip journalism: it’s a clever, polished example of it.  There’s little to the movie besides the bizarreness of the yarn itself.  It’s entertaining, but if it has a downside it’s that you may start to feel sorry for the deluded, exploited McKinney in ways she never intended you to when she seized this opportunity to (once again) tell her side of the story.

Devout Mormons will want to stay away from Tabloid, as the film takes some dry shots at the religion (including revelations about their beliefs re: the mystical powers of undergarments, and animated segments illustrating planetary dominion in the afterlife).  The inclusion of an anti-Mormon activist, who has no relationship to the McKinney case, as a talking head is one of the documentary’s few obvious missteps.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a bizarre crime tale recounted by the loopy ex-beauty queen alleged to have committed it… in Joyce McKinney, Morris has found a fittingly weird and funny muse.”–Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel (contemporaneous)

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