See? Now I'm trying to remember why it's rated R. I've become deaf to foul language, so I'm trying to think how hard they cursed. I think there's a moderate amount of f-bombs in the movie. Oh, also the inside of the President's head. That ol' chestnut...)
DIRECTOR: Pablo Larrain
Everything now makes sense. Natalie Portman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and the rest of the movie doesn't get attention. I kept seeing clips from this movie and it looked great. But I didn't hear much about this movie outside of Portman's performance. I think that's a pretty accurate assessment of this movie. It's a movie that is outshined by its performances.
The movie isn't bad, by any stretch of the imagination. It's actually kind of good. But the problem is that it turns the assassination of JFK and the mourning that is associated with it into something that gets on the wrong side of criminally boring. This is one moment in time that needed to be analyzed. Jackie Kennedy was this icon, perhaps the most looked to First Lady until Michelle Obama. (Fight me, Nancy Reagan!) Seeing how this very public figure dealt with something that is so inherently personal is fascinating. But there isn't much driving the movie in that direction outside the performance, which really does capture it. Instead, the movie takes a very indulgent time with having Portman emote. And she does it. She does a fine job of it all. One of the major ideas behind the movie, and this isn't unique for the movie, is the look at the Kennedy's time in office as Camelot. (Read your history, kids.) If this was a new idea to you, then the movie really has this amazing message and I could probably get the gears grinding a little more than they were during the movie. But I know about Camelot. Watching the majesty of the White House didn't really knock my socks off. Also, the Camelot stuff doesn't really hit the nail on the head. The Camelot stuff was about Jackie being engulfed in a sea of Kennedies, but still developing her own alpha personality among that. Instead, the movie focuses on Jackie and Bobby. Bobby is a fairly sympathetic Kennedy in this one. He is a force of nature, similar to Jack, but he is very human in this role. I don't blame Peter Sarsgaard (I had to look it up.) because he really works for the role. He is the necessary balm to Portman's very caustic Jackie. (I'll get to that later.) So Camelot rests on the shoulders of both the White House set and the very on the nose soundtrack. We've all seen the White House so many times. I mentioned earlier that Jackie was an icon and that it would be neat for the kids to learn about Camelot. But the actual focus on Jackie's fashion influence is only hinted at. When the movie acknowledges the influence that Jackie had on the nation, that's when the movie really gets interesting. But it only teases that with the White House tour.
But Portman! Can we talk about Portman? We're talking about Portman. How the heck do you figure out what to do with this character? Jackie was a public figure that just kept her secrets close to the vest. That's what the movie is about. The movie is framed as an interview with Billy Crudup (heh) and Jackie telling him all the things that he cannot print. Keeping that in mind -and I'm assuming that's accurate -how did Portman create an uncomfortable character of Jackie without actual insight of what she was actually like. I love this version of Jackie. I would never want to be friends with her because I kept getting mad at her, but she is a far more interesting character to watch because the sanitized version that I always thought she was was dull. I hate biopics that adore their protagonists. Jackie is very flawed, yet sympathetic in this one. She seems to really love her husband and constantly seems lost while controlling those around her. That's a confusing sentence to write, but an even harder concept to perform. There are a few movies that deal with the stressful aftermath of death. I have buried enough family members (they've died naturally, I swear!) that I know how brutal that entire experience is. Jackie compounds the whole thing by making it a historic event with processions. JFK wasn't just her husband. He was the nation's father, love him or hate him. On top of that, there is the added element that gets added when the Secret Service has to get involved. And the thing I love? She handles a lot of it poorly. How great is that? Death isn't about grace. Death is about making enemies and doing insensitive things in attempts to make both yourself and everyone happy. Portman nails this paradox. She wants the best for her husband, but she understands the political landscape that comes with the death of a President. Add to that the duality of Bobby. Bobby seems to have lost a brother and is her shoulder to cry on. He is the only one who comes close to understanding what Jackie is going through, but he is also Jack's inevitable legacy. (Spoiler: History doesn't work so well for him.) Watching him balance between being warm and sympathizing and cold and calculating is bizarre. Finally, Jackie has to be a mother while being booted out of her house. She is watching a man she doesn't seem to particularly like replace her husband in front of her. There's a moment where I realized that the First Lady, for a brief moment, was technically homeless. I crapped on the movie in the last paragraph, but it does give her a lot to play with.
I'm fascinated with death movies. Not like I'm happy with them, but views of death is very challenging to pull off. (I still swear to Manchester by the Sea.) One of the framing devices is really an excellent, if not simple, choice. John Hurt, whom I genuinely miss, is fantastic as the Catholic priest counselling the grieving Jackie. Jackie is a tough cookie throughout most of the movie. She maintains the strength that is associated with this force of nature, but she also really doubles down on her humanity in the moments with Fr. John Hurt. (He's unnamed on IMDB, but there has to be a record of the priest who performed the funeral rites. Am I funeral right?) This is where I give a few points to the writing. My wife woke up and really found much of his advice genuinely touching. I don't know the filmmakers' views on God, but there was this cool element of truth that Fr. Hurt mentioned. (Fr. Hurt sounds creepy. I'm backing off of that nickname.) I'm never going to directly cite Jackie if someone is doubting the presence of God, but I do like the sentiment attached to it. I'm sure I've heard the message before, but I like the way it was worded here.
I'm listening to the soundtrack right now and I really don't like it. The best part of the soundtrack, I suppose, is that I didn't really notice it during the film. It's supporting the images pretty well, by that logic. The main theme is only really noticable when the Secret Service officer is riding the back of the car covering the body. I think the song is in the trailer, but it is overused in the soundtrack. I don't normally comment on a soundtrack, but between being too much of a bummer, it is way too repetitive.
The movie is fine, but Portman is phenomenal. I don't know if I could recommend the movie as a whole, but it would be worth watching clips of Portman in her different modes. Also, was I always aware that the upstate New York accent is grating sometimes?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.