Jackie

 photo jackie_zpsnphjqkwp.jpg photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgJackie is a film that almost dares you to enjoy it. It’s never dull, but it’s so acutely focused on dramatic posturing that it completely ignores the kinds of things that normally compose a movie. This is an account that is less interested in action, drama or a plot. The chronicle focuses acutely on technique. It’s less a movie and more of a work of art to be viewed. The performance as an expression of method. Come see the newest biographic installation! It’s Jackie Kennedy as embodied by Natalie Portman!

The “plot” concerns the days and weeks following the assassination of her husband. Jackie is a character piece in which a devastated woman makes the first steps to engineer her own legacy. According to the screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, she was obsessed with image. How will she and her husband be remembered? She’s worried about perception, not reality. The same could be said of this movie. It begins with the interview Kennedy gave to Life magazine reporter Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) in Hyannis Port, Mass a week after the assassination. The film alternates between the day itself, the state funeral, and frequent flashbacks to various events when her husband was alive. Oh, she also argues a lot with her brother-in-law, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (a shockingly miscast Peter Sarsgaard).

At times the circumstances are horrifying. Mica Levi’s (Under the Skin) discordant score punctuates this. The violins swell and plunge so as to emphasize her overwhelming sense of dread. More of an intrusion with the action on screen than an underscoring of it, they interrupt the scene, calling attention to itself. She steps off the plane in Dallas and the music drowns out the sounds of the crowd. It rises to the point where it supersedes what the people are saying. At first, they merely hint, but midway through they have taken over, hijacking the narrative and sabotaging the participants. It’s an edgy choice and one that would beautifully frame a horror movie. For a biographical drama, it’s distracting.

Natalie Portman’s rendition can be most equitably described as uncanny. She’s certainly got the look and feel of the character. The fashions are nattily precise. She gets the mannerisms down. Her vocal delivery is a combination of raspy mid-Atlantic accent and breathy whisper.  It is an emotional achievement, but it all amounts to a sort of a ghostly manifestation. The style of her fashion and the lilt of her voice are beyond reproach, but the soul of the woman is oddly missing. Her patrician beauty and poised demeanor belie a chilly personality. We get that Jackie, though stricken with grief, is full of steely resolve, but she remains remote. She stares out zombie-like into space. Her presence is ethereal.

Jackie is particularly cold during the interview segments. She is curt and controlling, dictating which statements interviewer White can and cannot publish. Recreated scenes of her TV special, A Tour of the White House, seem especially artificial with exaggerated smiling and mock enthusiasm. Granted the real thing was a bit of a pretense, but Mrs. Kennedy still seemed sincere. It’s on YouTube. Compare for yourself. Jackie paints a portrait of a brittle, harsh individual, that is so peculiar in its affectations that you cannot look away. The performance will most certainly draw Portman attention come awards season. It’s too conspicuous not to notice.

This is Natalie Portman’s movie. She is Jackie Kennedy. The narrative is entirely composed of vignettes in which she interacts with various people. In that sense, it’s a chamber piece rather than a biography. Jackie is indeed an intimate portrayal, It revolves around her, every line, every scenario, every interaction fills Jackie. There are admirable qualities. The production has an eye for period detail. It looks exquisite. However, a gorgeous facade is not a raison d’être. As she weeps and drinks and smokes and snarls we get an unorthodox depiction. There’s a moment where she washes off the blood from her dead husband in the shower. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain certainly makes bold decisions in his treatment of this icon. I suppose one can admire his desire to innovate. It’s not conventional. Yet the work is assembled like a collage, with bits and pieces coming together but never coalescing into a unified whole. What are we to make of Jackie Kennedy? Who was this woman? What made her tick? I still have no idea.

11-07-16

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23 Responses to “Jackie”

  1. I completely agree. I feel like they spent the whole time trying to be unconventional and forgot to make an actual movie in the progress.

    • Wow. My first comment and it’s a confirmation. Didn’t expect that given the overwhelming (and still baffling) praise for this bizarre theater piece. Nice to receive validation in a fellow cinephile.

      Still open to hearing why the the film’s adherents do so enjoy it.

      • Count another. I respect and admire the great Portman performance and the well put-together score, but really, this was dull. It’s like the epitome of what I hate about pure Oscar bait movies. Felt nothing. Thought the storytelling was choppy as well.

        My final line in my thoughts: In the classic (made up) category of “superb performance(s) in a forgettable good film” lies Jackie. Expect an intriguing character, and an unmoving story. Think Portman deserves any lead actress accolades, but I’d be massively disappointed if this gets serious Best Pic talk and screenplay consideration.

      • Yes Best Actress is a bit easier to accept than Best Picture or Screenplay. However I would still greet an award for this “LOOK AT ME! I’M ACTING” display with extreme disappointment. There was far more quietly impressive work this year.

      • Yeah I can’t say that I think she should win (without seeing the other major players first), but she deserves a nom and is probably all but certain to get one.

        I found Hailee Steinfeld much more enjoyable and dynamic.

      • Yes Jackson. Steinfeld was better. She’s not getting any awards talk so seems unlikely but I share your enthusiasm for her performance.

      • Yeah, there definitely was “far more quietly impressive work this year”. My pick for Best Actress is Isabelle Huppert. I’d also pick a fair amount of people over Portman.

      • I’ve heard that. Right now I’d rather Emma Stone or Ruth Negga get recognized. Haven’t seen Hidden Figures or 20th Century Women yet but I’ve heard those hold possibilities too.

  2. “Posturing”, “technique”, “discordant”, “intrusion”, “zombie-like”, and all the rest. You sure got the right words for what was wrong with this thing. I might’ve added arty, boring, and maliciously inaccurate; so “It’s never dull,” and “she’s certainly got the look and feel of the character,” strike me as over-indulgent.

    As to detail: I had no idea the interviewer was supposed to be the amiable JFK-fan, Teddy White. Talk about zombie-like. This guy’s more miscast than RFK. And that corny Camelot simile resurrected near the end of the movie – respectfully, it seemed to me, rather than ironically. At least it’s appropriate if you modify it to Arthur’s doing the cheating instead of Guinevere.

    Not to suggest any connection between the charmless, forced-smile ninny in this movie and a historical individual by the name of Jackie Kennedy, you might find the following of interest:

    https://thatswhatidliketoknow.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/kennedys-grave/

    .

  3. I was disappointed! I learned zero about the real Jackie. This little interview session complete with flashbacks, taught me nothing about who she was. I wanted so much more. The music was also bad. It felt better suited for a horror story. 2 stars

  4. I love your review so much! I haven’t see this movie, but I wasn’t planning to, because I always think that such biopics are never good (I still remember the pain of watching Diana (2013)). But I also get your feeling about the movie revolving around Natalie Portman and it is being HER movie in the first instance. I don’t like this idea in the least, and also, I had a bit of this impression of Portman when watching “Black Swan”.

    • That’s an interesting mention, Diana (2013). I never saw that biopic but given its rather bad reputation, I think it would make an interesting comparison to this picture, which has been so well received – by critics anyway.

  5. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Yeah this movie really irritated me. It’s like they turned her into a robot instead of a person. Also some choices seemed very heavy handed like playing Camelot twice. I have a feeling the Kennedy’s would wildly rebuke the portrayal of this film

    • Amen to everything you said.

      Now I must quote you, “I kept feeling like I was watching Westworld and she was going to reveal herself to be a robot.” — Rachel Wagner

  6. Ching Tan Says:

    You nailed this to a tee Mark. Excellent acting by Natalie, but you’re right, I left with no further insight on Jackie O. Maybe that’s why I was always on the verge of my seat fearful of her alter ego Black Swan to make her grand appearance…especially during that Camelot scored breakdown of playing dress up while drinking moment?

    • Perhaps you nailed the most ridiculous moment: That “Camelot-scored-breakdown-of-playing-dress-up-while-drinking” scene was indulgent to say the least. Certainly an excessive use of artistic license.

  7. Great review thank you. Natalie Portman gives an unforgetable performance about one of the most memorable events of the last century. Her capacity to portray the multiple personalities embedded within the persona of Jackie in the midst and aftermath of JFK’s assasination is truly extraordinary.

  8. “…it’s so acutely focused on dramatic posturing that it completely ignores the kinds of things that normally compose a movie.” – This already sounds like a movie I’m probably not going to like. You’re certainly not the first person I know to remark about the score. Most of my friends who have seen the film said the score was great, but misused. Your description of how it overwhelms and distracts backs that up. Sounds like Natalie Portman does a good job capturing the look and feel of the character, so it’s a shame that the character’s soul seems to be missing. I’m bummed to hear that the film comes across as a collage with bits and pieces that don’t really come together since it seemed like a great opportunity to tell a compelling story from a perspective often ignored with regard to the life of JFK.

    • Back in December, this was supposed to be the darling at the Academy Awards. Critical acclaim was huge but somehow nobody told the audience. It garnered 3 Oscar nominations: Actress (Natalie Portman), Costume Design, and Original Score but NOT Best Picture. Natalie Portman was an early favorite to win and everyone predicted it would win for Costume Design. It won nothing.

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