Honestly, when I first saw posters for Jackie starring Natalie Portman as the former First Lady, I was deeply skeptical about what another pop culture portrayal could possibly offer. Instead of focusing on the glamour and society life of Jacqueline Kennedy, however, Jackie presents a raw, intimate portrait of the jarring days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and follows his widow through the planning of his iconic funeral.
The film is framed through Mrs. Kennedy’s first interview after her husband’s funeral. As she meets with the journalist (Billy Crudup), she is combative and evasive, invested in getting only the image and the details she wants in the article. As the interview progresses, the film flashes back to Jackie’s famous television tour of the White House, the moments leading up to and following the assassination in Dallas, and the fraught days that followed as she negotiates with President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) and Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) over her husband’s funeral and the public procession she wants to lead, modeled after the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. At the heart of her focus on the funeral is her angst over what will become of her and her children, and how her husband will be remembered when he did live to do many of the things he intended to as president. The film also features conversations between Jackie and a priest (John Hurt) in which she struggles with the way that anger over the infidelity in her marriage mixes with her grief over lost children and her husband’s murder.
Jackie is not primarily a glamorous film and it is not much fun, as some of the other recent projects about the Kennedy’s have been. Instead of portraying the youth and ambition of “Camelot,” the film instead focuses on a significant sliver of how the Kennedy legacy was crafted and elevated. Through this shift in focus, the film avoids so many of the cliches about the Kennedy family and sidesteps some of the more shallow aspects of Jackie’s popularity. It instead portrays her working to keep herself in the public very carefully as a means of self-preservation. Whether or not the shrewdness of this depiction is historically accurate, it is certainly interesting and refreshingly novel.
In addition to the beautifully written screenplay, the acting in the film is superb. There is no doubt why Natalie Portman was nominated for an Oscar for the role. On the surface, she captures the particular accent and slightly stilted way Jackie spoke in that White House tour, building that imitation into a deep and poignant performance. Even playing such an iconic woman, she disappears into the role, vividly capturing the grief, anger, confusion and determination wrapped up in the story. The chemistry between Portman and Greta Gerwig, who plays Jackie’s long-time friend and assistant, Nancy, and with Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy helps make real the tight, secretive community the audience drops in on.
The details of the film are visually beautiful as well. Madeline Fontaine is nominated for an Oscar for her costume design. Given the limited scope of the film’s plot, however, the costumes do not feature much variety in Jackie’s wardrobe. Iconic moments, from White House events to assassination, are re-created in detail highlighted by very close close-ups in painfully intimate moments or wide, sweeping shots that capture a dreamy, ambitious mood. Perhaps my favorite scene features Jackie packing her wardrobe to leave the White House, blasting the finale to Camelot, and getting very drunk. The details in this scene are incredibly rich.
For its evocative screenplay, outstanding acting, and beautiful details, I rate Jackie 4/5 stars.
Jackie was written by Noah Oppenheim and directed by Pablo Larrain. It runs 1 hour and 40 minutes and is rated R.
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