Jackie (2016)

brooke Sometimes I can’t decide whether I like Natalie Portman or not.
You’ve got V for Vendetta, in which she does an incredible job
Then there are the Star Wars prequels where she could have been replaced by a cardboard cutout.
I thought her performance in Jackie kind of ran the gamut.

casey I think she’s best when playing characters with a kind of steadfast but brittle composure, my favorite being her performance in Black Swan. In its own way, I think Jackie plays right to those strengths. I’ve never been all that immersed in the history and mythology surrounding the Kennedy White House, but I found Jackie really compelling as a study of the ridiculous expectations and contradictions the former First Lady had to navigate. What does it mean to be the most prominent woman in the world, a high society socialite, a mother of two, a grieving widow, and a real person all at the same time? I don’t know how you’d do it in real life, let alone act it out, but I think Portman does it justice.

brooke I think the best scenes take place after JFK’s assassination, where Portman does a great job of showing the tension and stress Jackie had to be feeling. (Hopefully the JFK assassination thing isn’t a spoiler for anyone… if so, catch up on your U.S. history already).
So Jackie is about the one and only Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman), First Lady from 1961 until Kennedy’s death in November 1963. It’s a biopic told through the frame of an interview she had with Life Magazine one week after the assassination, where she famously compared her husband to King Arthur in Camelot. As she speaks to journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) we are shown flashbacks to different points of her husband’s administration, which includes preparing for and taping her 1962 CBS News tour of the White House,  witnessing the violent assassination in Dallas, making funeral arrangements with Robert Kennedy’s (Peter Sarsgaard) help, and processing her grief with a priest (John Hurt, RIP).

casey We’ve talked a lot about Natalie Portman, and we have to because the camera almost never leaves her, often zooming in for closeups and rotating around her, which creates a sense of intimacy but also of shared disorientation. Other characters move into and out of her space, but we never see or hear anything outside of it.

brooke The camera work is definitely striking. It kept me oriented towards Jackie and her thoughts and feelings as she interacted with others through the whirlwind of decisions she had to make right after JFK was shot, and for the funeral procession.

casey The scenes during and after the shooting (which are scattered throughout the narrative) are very affecting. The “present-day” interactions between Jackie and White weren’t as interesting, although I guess the idea was to show how conscious she was about taking control over her own narrative as she dictated to White what he would and would not be allowed to print. But the rest of the movie already conveys that so well, it felt unnecessary, although it does create a convenient device for telling the story in a non-linear way.

brooke It made sense narratively to show her meeting with White (note: in the credits he is simply listed as “The Journalist”), but it would have been just as effective without him. No offense to Crudup, but his role added nothing for me. I think they only stuck with it so they could play the finale from Camelot at the end bleeds into the credits. Which, in fairness, is a good reason… Jackie was not the only Kennedy who loved Camelot; the finale was JFK’s favorite part, and he frequently played the cast recording in the White House and quoted the final lines: “Don’t let it be forgot / That once there was a spot, / For one brief, shining moment / That was known as Camelot.”

casey Overall I’d say Jackie is a flawed but interesting look at an enigmatic woman in nearly unimaginable circumstances. It didn’t necessarily make a deep impression, but for those invested in the Kennedy mystique, it’s an essential watch.

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