Ever go to the grocery store and, while standing at the checkout, glanced at the tabloid papers? With Rumor Patrol, People, and Life & Times all detailing the juicy details of Lindsey Lohan or Britney Spears’ latest mental breakdown (using a combination of badly Photoshopped pictures, corny puns and headlines reading, “Drugs, Booze, and Floral Panties”), you’d be hard-pressed not to open one of those suckers up. Things only get worse when (and if) you do, though, as the piece — a hulking turd of exclamation marks, adverbs, and “first-hand” accounts (all cited from either the TMZ staff or Perez Hilton) — details the drunken escapades of a pathetic celebrity you’ve never cared about.
And so, it’s surprising that Errol Morris, an award-winning documentary filmmaker (Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, and The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara) finds something loveable about such dead-end journalism. In fact, his latest, Tabloid, chronicles the rise-and-fall of a former Miss Wyoming who was charged with the kidnapping and imprisonment of a Mormon Missionary, sounds just like one of those trash stories.
Morris explains that the production was a return to his “favorite genre — sick, sad and funny,” and this tale of hapless obsession is certainly all of the above. Here, the director spends time both romanticizing the saga’s ridiculousness (and to an extent, tabloid journalism itself), whilst preserving its narrowed appeal, but unlike his more distinguished works, this doc lacks significance. Then again, what should one expect from a work described as “[part] love story, film noir, brainy B-movie and demented fairy tale?”
Never a cookie-cutter beauty pageant star and having a claimed IQ of 168, Joyce McKinney was the original “Drama Queen.” But, like many of us, she’s had problems in the romance department, despite men, both rich and powerful, instantly falling for her. She did eventually find solace, however, in the arms of a man named Kirk — a man no one would have expected the picturesque model to be with. So it is even more incredulous, that when her prince left one night, choosing Mormonism over of her, McKinney decided to take drastic measures. In 1977, on the steps of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she abducted Kirk and imprisoned him in a small cottage where he was chained, seduced, and ultimately, raped. A few days later, he was freed and filed a report to police. When questioned, Joyce claimed (and continues to claim) that Kirk was brainwashed into turning on her by a Mormon High-Priest.
For Tabloid, the producers tracked down McKinney, who had spent years in solitude (save for a short trip to South Korea, where she got her dog, “Booger,” cloned postmortem). As evident by on-screen interviews, she was more than happy to spill the beans about the incident and much more. At some points, it’s hard to believe the tall-tale behind her exaggerated gestures but Joyce is a likeable enough character . . . even if her voice does jump several octaves at a time.
The film’s theme is obsession; a dark subtext amidst a gooey narrative. Besides Joyce and Kirk, a character that’s often mentioned is Keith, her partner-in-crime. Morris explains that he was not only part of the crime’s initial planning stages, but a player afterwards as the duo would dress in elaborate costumes to escape the media and authorities. Although it doesn’t come straight from the horse’s mouth, it becomes an established fact that he was treated like a pest. Nobody knew why Keith chose to follow her, but one can only assume that he, like Joyce, was in love (except the only difference being, unlike Kirk, he would gladly accept enslavement if it meant seeing her). Another example of this premise is Joyce’s ex-boyfriend, who, heartbroken, sold scandalous pictures of her to the Daily Mirror, a tabloid newspaper that made her out to be a whore.
Before Tabloid, I had no idea who McKinney was. Fortunately enough, Morris’ lively visuals, which has newspaper clippings and faux headlines popping up on-screen, make the film both informative and entertaining. But on the flip side, much like tabloid newspapers, there isn’t a shred of importance here. Does the film expose a government scandal? No. How about an impactful event in human-history? Can’t say it does. It’s simply a film about the life of an incredibly eccentric woman and, for the most part, both Morris and I are content with that.