April 5, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Deborah Kampmeier
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City’s modern-day community of aspiring actors, the sexual-misconduct drama “Tape” has a cast with all of the main characters as white and middle-class, with some African American and Latino characters in small speaking roles.
Culture Clash: An aspiring actress who went through a harrowing sexual experience with a sleazy director plans to get revenge on him by exposing his misdeeds.
Culture Audience: “Tape” will appeal mostly to people who are interested in #MeToo stories, but the movie fails the #MeToo movement by having a completely ludicrous and unrealistic ending.
“Tape” writer/director Deborah Kampmeier says that the movie is based on the real-life #MeToo experience of a friend of hers. However, in telling this story and making it into a movie, Kampmeier ditches the realism in the last 15 minutes and turns it into a melodramatic, ridiculous mess that is in no way believable and cheapens the message that the film is trying to convey. There are tacky Lifetime movies that have more realistic endings than “Tape.”
The beginning of “Tape” starts out promising enough, because it looks like it’s going to be an edgy independent drama about a traumatized woman seeking some kind of self-empowerment by getting revenge on the person who has harmed her. The opening scene is very bloody and graphic, as it shows a woman in her 20s (played by Annarosa Mudd) in her bathroom, putting a ball piercing in the middle of her tongue and then cutting her wrists with a razor blade. She then shaves off most of her long, dark hair until she has a buzz cut. And she also straps on a hidden camera around her abdomen.
What is going on with her? Viewers don’t find out her name—Rosa Terrano—until about midway through the story when she goes to one of her social-media accounts. Until then, she wears all black and sunglasses, as she lurks around a shabby studio that’s being used for auditions. At one of the auditions, she hangs out in the waiting room with all the other young women who are there.
Rosa stands out from the rest of the auditioners, because they’re all long-haired brunettes with a bright-eyed wholesome look, while Rosa looks like a mopey skinhead who’s on her way to a Marilyn Manson concert. At the audition, a 15-year-old girl admits she isn’t on the audition list. She’s crushed when she finds out that she won’t get a chance because she didn’t follow the emailed instructions to get on the list. One of the auditioners is friendly and empathetic Pearl Osborne (played by Isabelle Fuhrman), who comforts the girl before she goes into the audition room.
During her audition, Pearl is asked by the director Lux St. Seguin (played by Tarek Bishara), who’s in the room with a female assistant or casting agent, why Pearl thinks she’s the perfect candidate for the project, which is a reality show. Pearl answers that she’s talented, but she admits she needs to market herself better. It’s the movie’s not-so-subtle way of showing that Pearl lacks confidence and is therefore a vulnerable target for a sexual predator.
After her audition, Rosa and Pearl have a brief conversation in the waiting room, where they exchange pleasantries. Rosa tells Pearl that she auditioned with a monologue from Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” Pearl says she doesn’t know that play, but she knows director Julie Taymor’s 1999 movie adaption “Titus.” Pearl says she remembers the movie has a scene with a woman who is raped and then mutilated by her rapists, by cutting out her tongue and dismembering her hands so she won’t report the crime. The obvious parallel is how Rosa mutilated herself in the beginning of the story.
For the vast majority of the movie, Rosa plays private detective, by following Pearl—Rosa got Pearl’s home address by taking a photo of the sign-in list at the audition—and videotaping Pearl without her knowledge. This is a plot hole for the movie, because out of all of the women who auditioned for Lux that day, how does Rosa know that Pearl is going to be Lux’s next victim? Shouldn’t Rosa be secretly following Lux instead?
Pearl gets a callback for the auditions, and Rosa just happens to be there too, and she makes an excuse for not going into the audition room. However, Lux sees Rosa hanging around outside and asks if he knows her. Based on Rosa’s reaction, she definitely knows him, but she doesn’t want him to recognize her.
Pearl is then seen alone at a dining table, where she tearfully speaks to her mother by phone and expresses her frustrations and self-doubt over constantly being rejected for various reasons when she goes to auditions. After the phone call, Pearl goes into the bathroom and vomits up what she just ate, and then looks in the mirror and practices what she hopes will be her Academy Awards speech someday.
It’s one of the best scenes in the movie because Fuhrman (who’s by far the best actor in the cast) handles it very realistically. What’s chilling about the scene is that there are countless aspiring actresses who’ve probably done the exact same thing. Although it’s possible for male actors to develop eating disorders over body insecurities, more often than not, bulimics are female. Meanwhile, as this is taking place, Rosa is seated at an outdoor table in Times Square looking on a computer tablet at all the video footage that she has of Pearl.
It isn’t long before Rosa, once again lurking outside the audition studio, sees Pearl again. Pearl is in tears because she didn’t make the cut in the latest round of auditions. However, Lux the director approaches Pearl on the street before she walks away to tell her that she’s too special to be in a reality show. And he has good news for her: She would be perfect for his “protégée program,” where he can work one-on-one with her to help her break into the business. Of course, Rosa is standing close enough to catch all of this on her hidden camera.
From there, Rosa prepares to secretly video record what happens during Lux’s “private acting session” with Pearl. Rosa bribes a guy who does security for a run-down warehouse-styled studio area to enter one of the studios and plant hidden cameras in there. One of the cameras she plants in a light switch, and another camera she plants in a desk clock. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Rosa has been there before and knows exactly what’s going to happen to Pearl.
Lux is as sleazy as you think he might be. He’s got a video camera set up in the middle of the room, whose few furnishings include a bed, and it’s very easy to see how this “private acting session” is going to go. “Tape” shows that Lux is not a Harvey Weinstein-type bully but someone who’s a smooth-talking manipulator, who keeps telling his victims that they’ll be “empowered” by letting go of their sexual inhibitions with him. He tells Pearl that she’s free to go any time she wants, but then he warns her that she’ll just be going back to her frustrating existence as an out-of-of work, aspiring actress, and he can change her life for the better if she just does what he suggests.
He also keeps repeating that acting in “the real world” requires actions that “aren’t for the meek” and are the opposite of what’s taught in formal acting classes. And he constantly mentions that almost every famous actress has done nudity and sex scenes. It progresses to the point where he gets completely naked and tells Pearl that in order to “get real” in the nude scene that he wants to film of her, he has to have sex with her on camera.
Pearl is extremely nervous and uncertain, but in his attempt to wear her down, he shows her the sex scene that Halle Berry did in “Monster’s Ball” to prove that actresses can win an Oscar for doing an explicit sex scene in a movie. He also tells her that sex scenes in movies that win Oscars are not simulated but real. It’s impossible to know how many “casting couch” situations have happened where aspiring actresses have been told the same things by predatory people in the industry, but “Tape” capably demonstrates that there are plenty of vulnerable and desperate people who will be targets for this type of manipulation.
Meanwhile, Rosa is outside a nearby building and watching and recording all of this hidden camera footage happening live. She has the choice to intervene or not. Does she put a stop to what’s going on? And what exactly does she plan to do with the video footage? Those questions are answered in the movie, which should have ended by answering those questions.
But no, the last 15 minutes of the movie shift into such a wildly different direction and tone—so much so that this plot twist seems like it was meant for another film altogether. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say that it completely goes against Rosa’s meticulous planning that she had in the previous majority of the story.
What Rosa does at the end of the film is so poorly thought-out, and the reactions of the people around her are so mind-numbingly unrealistic, that it makes “Tape” a disappointing, failed attempt at being an important feminist movie. “Tape” wants desperately to become a classic film for the #MeToo era, but the movie’s dumb ending means that “Tape” won’t even register as a footnote.
Full Moon Films released “Tape” through a Crowdcast virtual theatrical release on March 26, 2020. The movie’s digital and VOD release is on April 10, 2020.