Review: Like the Title Suggests, You’ll Devour, Then Forget, ‘Tabloid’

Documentarian Errol Morris revisits a kinky but disposable scandal from the ’70s

Last Updated: July 14, 2011 @ 4:04 PM

Whether your grocery checkout tastes run more to “Oprah’s Secret Love Child!” or “Bigfoot Last Survivor of Alien Race!” you’ll find lots to enjoy in “Tabloid,” the newest documentary from filmmaker Errol Morris (“The Fog of War,” “The Thin Blue Line”).

But true to scandal-sheet form, the movie itself is an entertaining yarn that’s ultimately disposable.

Having introduced us to everyone from pet undertakers to Prof. Stephen Hawking, Morris now turns his camera to Joyce McKinney, a one-time beauty queen who became fodder for the London longsheets in what became known as the “manacled Mormon” affair.

As McKinney tells it, she and Kirk Anderson fell deeply in love in the late 1970s and planned to wed. But since Kirk was a Mormon, and his mother didn’t want him marrying outside the faith, he was whisked away to England to perform his missionary service.

Joyce flew to London with a friend, a pilot, and a bodyguard to get Kirk back and free him from the “brainwashing cult” that had taken possession of him. You know, like any lovestruck woman who knew she had found the right man for her would. And then the story gets complicated — Kirk either willingly or forcibly accompanied Joyce to a three-day weekend in Devon, where she ripped the magic underwear from his body, chained him to a bed, and repeatedly had sex with him for several days.

As Joyce tells it, the bondage was just to overcome the Mormon-instilled repression that was making Kirk impotent. In any event, the two returned to London to find that the papers were full of stories about a kidnapped Mormon missionary, and before long, Joyce found herself under arrest — and the darling of London tabloids, who couldn’t get enough of her Southern charisma, her tale of true love, and the kinky-sex angle of the whole crazy affair.

Suddenly, she was the toast of the United Kingdom, even outshining Joan Collins at the movie premiere for “The Stud,” but after she sold her story to the Daily Express, rival tab the Daily Mirror started digging up sordid photos and tales from Joyce’s life that didn’t exactly match up to the doing-it-all-for-love saga she was spinning.

After decades passed by, and it seemed like Joyce’s moment in the spotlight was over, a thoroughly bizarre and unexpected 21st century event put her right back on the front page.

Errol Morris knows how to spin a great yarn, and that’s what he does here, first telling the tale from Joyce’s point of view and then introducing other players who make us see things somewhat differently. Morris obviously loves the lurid prose and typestyles of old-school tabloids, throwing text on the screen that looks yanked from screaming headlines.

The problem with “Tabloid” is that, ultimately, it’s just an entertaining anecdote. There’s no greater point being made here about celebrity journalism, or the tabloid press, or self-delusion, or even narcissism. It’s just about poor, sad, kooky, self-aggrandizing Joyce McKinney and her thoroughly bizarre life, and while it makes for a compelling tale, the only thing that separates this from a segment on “Inside Edition” is Morris’ whiz-bang skill as a documentarian.

“Tabloid” is a hot-dog cooked by a five-star chef; you’ll enjoy it in the moment but later wonder why so much effort was lavished on so little.