After two heavy, complicated pictures about drop-dead serious subjects (The Fog of War, Standard Operating Procedure), documentary maker Errol Morris lightens up and returns to what he does best: ferret out stranger-than-fiction stories and let the people who lived them do the talking. This one, though, is exceptionally strange even by Morris’ usual standards.
The subject of the fascinating Tabloid is Joyce McKinney, a chatty, vivacious 60-something woman, a former Miss Wyoming with an IQ of 168 who always dreamed of a picture-perfect life — a husband, kids, the white picket fence and all that — but went about trying to find it in the most peculiar way.
In a cheerful, self-pleased tone, Joyce recounts her love-at-first-sight meeting with Kirk Anderson, a Mormon who responded to her advances (sadly, Anderson declined to be interviewed for the film). The couple was soon engaged to marry, but then Kirk disappeared, whisked away from Utah to London to become a Mormon missionary.
Interpreting the move as a kind of kidnapping by the church, Joyce sprung into action. She moved to Los Angeles to raise money (she never says exactly how she did it, but it doesn’t take much imagination to figure it out) and hired her friend and two bodyguards to go with her to Surrey, “rescued” Kirk from the clutches of the Latter-Day Saints, then took him to a remote cottage in the British countryside, manacled him to a bed spread-eagled and had sex with him for three days, hoping to become pregnant with his baby.
And that’s just the start of the story. Morris, as usual, is interested in the slippery nature of truth, but he’s in a more playful mood here than usual, interspersing interviews with vintage photographs, cartoons and illustrations that inject humor into Joyce’s increasingly sordid stories. After Joyce is apprehended by authorities and arrested, the story explodes in the British press — “The Manacled Mormon!” — sparring a war between the two biggest London tabloids, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Express. The competition was so ferocious that questionable journalistic ethics came into play.
Through it all, Joyce relished the attention while persevering with her plan to get Kirk back. By the end of Tabloid, you’re not entirely sure of Joyce’s sanity — or whether she’s just playing Morris to get her version of the story immortalized on celluloid. But the director ends up with the winning hand, adding another portrait of bizarre human behavior to his impressive canon. You wouldn’t want to meet Joyce McKinney after seeing Tabloid, but you’ll be glad Morris did.
Director: Errol Morris.
Producers: Julie Bilson Ahlberg, Mark Lipson.
An IFC Films Selects release. Running time: 88 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual content, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.