Movie Review: Jackie
By Matthew Huntley
December 19, 2016
One does not leave Jackie feeling like they got to know the real Jackie Kennedy. We do, however, walk away from it thinking we saw a potential version of her. Indeed, one of the film's strongest and most interesting qualities is the way it contrasts Jackie's public image with her supposed real-life one and how it reinforces the idea that our perception of any person in the public eye can be (and most likely is) vastly different from his or her actual persona. On television and in print, Jackie Kennedy always came across as composed, congenial, healthy, and glamorous; she was the iconic symbol of class. But in real life, she may not have been these things to the degree we thought. Whatever her actual disposition, the disparity between who we thought she was and who she actually was makes for interesting, although not exactly compelling, viewing.
The film takes place just weeks after President John F. Kennedy's assassination and intertwines the events of that unforgettable day in November 1963 with Jackie's LIFE magazine interview with journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup), during which she recounts her version of the day's events and its immediate aftermath. Although the finished article only ended up as two pages, White's words poignantly captured Jackie's grief and, as he described it, “frail hope.” Jackie likely had a lot to do with this, as she only agreed to give the interview if she was able to edit the finished piece. This version of Jackie, as played by Natalie Portman, is commanding, abrasive, bitter, misanthropic and stubborn, but given what she's recently endured, and continues to endure, who could blame her?
Despite its title, Jackie is not a full-fledged biopic, and it's all the better for it. Noah Oppenheim's screenplay is lean and focused; it hones in on a very specific time and event that allows director Pablo Larraín to create a snapshot of history that tells us only what we need to know. This is a story about a grieving woman who's angry, resentful and unsure of what's going to happen next, a woman who went from filling one of the most prominent female roles in the world and always being in the spotlight to only being in the spotlight.
Of course, after JFK's death, Jackie remained as popular as ever, if not more so. The quarter of a million people who watched JFK's funeral procession on the streets of Washington, D.C., and the many more millions who watched it on TV, probably got a sense of what she was feeling, but Jackie sets out to confirm it. What I admire most about it is the way it seems to actively go against painting her as a cheerful, positive woman of faith who believed everything that happened was part of some divine plan and that she necessarily wanted to be what White says was “a mother to all of us.” On the contrary, Jackie admits, “I never wanted fame; I just became a Kennedy.”