It was one of the most talked about films at this year's Sundance Film Festival, with an incredibly thorny, of-the-moment narrative about sexual abuse and a starry cast that includes Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Elizabeth Debicki, and John Heard. It also has an acclaimed female writer-director behind the camera (Jennifer Fox). When it screened, it got unanimous acclaim (literally -- the Rotten Tomatoes score is sitting at a cool 100).
But when the film was finally picked up, "The Tale" didn't secure a theatrical run. The omnivorous Netflix didn't even nab it. Instead, it will be headed to HBO next week. It's a big move for a big movie, and a sign that the premium cable company is still hungry for prestige.
HBO original movies used to be a bigger deal than they are now. For a time, they were really the only ones in the game, in terms of attracting big name talent and investing in potentially dicey subject matter. This gave us sensations like Michael Ritchie's 1993 Holly Hunter comedy "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" and Joe Dante's immigration satire "The Second Civil War." These were spiky, zeitgeist-capturing features made at a time when HBO wasn't the juggernaut it is today.
And, for sure, HBO still invests in original films, usually with some kind of true-life or political bent, like Jay Roach's great "Recount" (2008) and "Game Change" (2012). But there isn't the kind of prestige around these movies like there were around the older films or the current run of HBO series.
But it looks like that is changing (again).
Earlier this year, Al Pacino starred as the embattled Penn State football coach in Barry Levinson's "Paterno." (Levinson is having something of a second wind on HBO, after helming last year's similarly slick "Wizard of Lies.") "Paterno" feels more like the HBO original film of recent memory -- star-studded, based on actual events, and handsomely produced. But it also felt dangerous in a way that few of the recent movies have been (and, from all accounts, how "The Tale" is).
Also being unveiled this month is the incredibly exciting "Fahrenheit 451," an adaptation of the Ray Bradbury classic by "99 Homes" filmmaker Ramin Bahrani that stars Michael B. Jordan, Michael Shannon, Sofia Boutella, and Laura Harrier. Based on all of the promotional materials, this is a film that will look and feel like something you'd pay the big bucks on this summer -- dynamic, thoughtful, and arresting.
HBO is making it very clear that the streaming services don't have a monopoly on forward-thinking original content, both when it comes to television series and brand new movies. And HBO is going to make that assertion known this summer. In fact, you could easily say that some of the best summer movies are going to debut exclusively on HBO (especially when you factor in things like Jean-Marc Vallee's Amy Adams-led miniseries version of "Sharp Objects"), especially since there isn't a superhero or a sequel in sight.