It’s tough to pick up the pieces. The assassination of John F. Kennedy has left the first lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) all alone.
Always the portrait of cool to the American public, behind the scenes, Jackie is struggling to keep it together. But this tragedy allows Jackie to dig deeper, and to continue what her husband left behind.
Know that awards movie you want to fall head over heels for but just can’t? That movie would be Jackie, solidly functional in most areas, exceptional in one area. But as a complete package that is supposed to be moving and emotional, it can be rather dull and lacking in poignancy.
Where Jackie impresses is its overall commitment level to its central character. Unlike a good deal of biopics which are almost always criticized for “not exploring the feature character deep enough,” writer Noah Oppenheim and director Pablo Larraín make Jackie Kennedy the Alpha and the Omega of this movie. How they go about it isn’t in the most successful of ways, however. As Kevin mentions in his thoughts over on Polarbearstv.com, the narrative is rather jumbled, and it never really settles into a groove. The more I think about it, there’s really not much of a story to be found.
As the film goes on, its narrative issues undermine most of the intended emotional moments. It is a shame, because the technical aspects are very strong. Composed by Mica Levi (Under the Skin), the score, though turned up a bit high sometimes, is always compelling. The direction, albeit unspectacular at times, is astonishing at others, particularly during the moments which Jackie is being broadcast to the world. They legitimately look like 60’s stock reels.
Back to commitment, Natalie Portman immerses herself as the widow of JFK. All of her extensive research in videotapes, audiotapes, and books as it pertains to Jackie Kennedy pays off to create a character that goes deeper than the surface. In the hands of a less capable actress this role could become a little bit of a caricature, but under Portman’s grip, the character feels real. Her work here is up there as her career best, but one wishes that there were that one or two scenes that imprint themselves on the memory. It’s no fault of her’s, the script and middling direction lets her down.
It would be wrong to not acknowledge the other members of the cast, but they ultimately are just serviceable. If there were a relative standout, Billy Crudup plays nicely off of Portman as Theodore H. White, the famous journalist who was called to write about the legacy of Jackie’s husband. This itself feels like it could have been its own true piece in the movie, instead of being used as a framing device where momentum becomes scattershot.
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.
Photo credits go to ew.com, usatoday.com, ramascreen.com, and deadline.com.
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