FilmReview

Review: ‘Jackie’ Paints an Incomplete Portrait

Laura Cafasso ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

In the escort from the autopsy of deceased President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) asks the driver and attending nurse, “Do you know James Garfield? What about William McKinley, Abraham Lincoln?” Besides the obvious nature of Lincoln’s death, neither of the two can identify the other assassinated presidents. Solemnly, the first lady sits in the company of Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), pondering the legacy of her murdered husband.

Jackie is the first John F. Kennedy biographical drama that puts JFK on the backburner, as compared to JFK, The KennedysParkland, or Killing Kennedy. He is seen in only a handful of scenes, either in profile or in passing, rarely a full-on shot combined with conversation. One particular scene, during the end of Jackie’s White House tour for CBS in 1962, has President Kennedy accompany his wife with obviously dubbed dialogue from the real documentary. This is a risky choice by director Pablo Larraín, who could have established intimate portrayals of this infamously turbulent relationship.

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Natalie Portman in Jackie. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

But, this is a revealing portrait of Jackie, the woman behind the man—whom she worries will be forgotten. She jumps from cursing his reckless and ill-advised decisions with Fidel Castro to lamenting how he could have been great, truly making an impact on civil rights and ending the Vietnam War. Natalie Portman gets the breathy, Long Island accent down to a startling accuracy while matching Jackie’s poise and grace, especially in mourning. The costume design, of course, lives up to the fashion icon status of Jackie, with the inclusion of several stylish pillbox hats.

Portman could win another Academy Award for her performance, which would mark the second time she’s teamed up with Jackie producer Darren Aronofsky, who directed Portman in Black Swan. The only hindrances could be the mismatched documentary style of filming and the onslaught of flashbacks to that White House tour Jackie gave in 1962. The prolonged, bucolic shots of the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis gave amateur filmmaking vibes rather than the grandiose majesty of America’s “royal” family.

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Caspar Phillipson and Natalie Portman in Jackie. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

For those unfamiliar with Jackie Kennedy, Portman gave the idolized widow a sharp sense of humor, haughty chain smoking, intellect, and firm beliefs—she adamantly refused to have a regular funeral procession, opting for an eight city block march. She was also fiercely dedicated to her two young children, Caroline and John, after two of her children died tragically and unexpectedly. One of her passion projects was running a laborious White House restoration by tracking down historical furnishings and artifacts from past administrations, most of which can be seen on the repetitive CBS tour flashbacks. 

Portman unequivocally delivers, but there is an underlying missing piece. At one point, Jackie believes that her husband will soon just be another oil painting on the White House walls. Well, this movie makes broad brush strokes without spending proper time honing in on the main inspiration: Jackie herself. There is no full backstory, just flashbacks of the shooting and funeral arrangements while she begrudgingly entertains an unnamed reporter (Billy Crudup) in the present. With a title like Jackie, you would think more of a life story would be explored, from her college education to her prestigious junior editorship at Vogue. She was a confident, enterprising young woman before she married into the Shakespearean tragedy that is the Kennedys.

Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE. Photo by Stephanie Branchu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
Natalie Portman in Jackie. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The strokes are muted, sad tones—understandably—but there is not enough emotional pull seeping into the canvas. It is a painting that you pause and assume its worth, rather than feel its meaning. The tender confessions with her priest (John Hurt) almost get to the finish line in the emotional and substance race but are interrupted by further, overdone clips of Jackie’s 1962 White House special. In the end, Jackie, who kept retracting her commentary from the reporter’s notes, makes one final point that she definitely wants to be included: for one brief, shining moment, there was a Camelot.

Essentially, there will be great presidents in the future, but President John F. Kennedy was unique, and was never really  down-to-earth; it was as if the whole presidency was a fairytale or fantasy. And now, Jackie must face the reality, that sometimes in life there are “no answers,” as her priest says.

Overall Grade: B

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