Directed by Pablo Larrain
Written by Noah Oppenheim
John F. Kennedy is one of this country’s most famous and celebrated presidents. His assassinations is also one of the most investigated and talked about political moments of the 20th century. That fateful day in Dallas when Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed the president changed the course of American history in the 1960s. As a result, Kennedy, whose presidency was cut short, is celebrated as a man who stood for something greater, who legacy is that of a man who was going to make a difference, which is a subtle difference from a man who did make a difference. Speculation is all we have to tell us how Kennedy’s presidency, and potential re-election, may have turned out. Civil Rights and Vietnam may have been much different realities. And yet we will never know. For as famous as JFK was, his wife, Jacqueline, was an icon to many women during that time as well, and is still recognized as one of the most popular First Lady’s in American History.
Her story, while married to John F. Kennedy’s, is also a little less well known and little different than what we think of her husband’s. Jackie (Natalie Portman) was there, sitting next to the President, when he was shot, which makes an interview with her a prime opportunity. So when a journalist (Billy Crudup) is given that chance, Jackie recalls what it felt like to be the President’s widow in the days and weeks following his assassination. Surrounded by his brother Bobby (Peter Saarsgard) and her long trusted friend Nancy (Greta Gerwig), Jackie goes through hell all the while trying to position her late husband as the celebrated President he was, and still is. John’s legacy is very important to Jackie as she tries to console her children and rediscover her faith with the help of a priest (John Hurt).
Jackie is one of those movies. You know the kind. The kind that is divisive, controversial, polarizing. Some people will hate this movie, or think very little of it, and you can quote me on that. I was one of those people for the first 15 minutes. It starts off slow, and Natalie Portman, like the film itself, takes a while to settle into her role as Jackie. At first, everything about the film feels cold, wooden, way too acted out. The musical score is grating. Luckily, everything (except the musical score, that is bad throughout) picks up and seems to hit its stride. The cold, woodeness of the Jackie soon makes sense, as we see her grieve and witness unthinkable tragedy. Her life becomes very cold. Her relationship with her husband is both close and distant. Jackie becomes a much more complex character than we gave her credit for in the beginning, and Portman’s performance matches this.
The film feels off kilter and oddly paced throughout, aspects many may point to when making an argument against the film, but again, for me it just seemed to work. I cannot imagine the mental anguish going through Jackie’s mind in the aftermath. It was of course rumored that John was not faithful, and even the scenes that take place prior to the assassination noticeably lack John’s presence. These uneven elements of the movie work as reflections of Jackie’s broken mental state. She has lost faith, she feels lost and wandering. What now without the White House or her husband? It’s an uneasy feeling, and as a viewer I felt that in the way director Pablo Larrain makes decisions throughout.
Jackie is a painfully beautiful portrait of a woman at an impossible time. There are some elements that makes the film feel like faux Malick, moments of solemn reflection paired with gorgeous cinematography. Jackie comes off as vain, shallow, less than perfect. Unlike most biopics which choose to tell the story of a subject’s outward life, Jackie instead chooses to tell the internal struggle on its title character. This perspective makes for often awkwardly pieced together scenes with little holding them together other than the strife and scatterbrained mental state of Jackie. The narrative is not polished, the pacing and flow of the film is non-linear and at times jumbled. But imagine Jackie in her time of grieving. Imagine her priorities and goals, her worldview and shattered hopes and dreams. That is what makes Jackie a fascinating film, and something much different that your typical bio-pic.