Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Most Overrated Movie of 2016

The goal of a biopic is to offer insight into its subject, to explore the life of an individual and share something new or interesting about its central character. By that definition Jackie is a complete failure. The only takeaway from director Pablo Larraín's film is that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was upset by the assassination of her husband. That's hardly worth the price of admission (let alone the film's $9,000,000 budget). Natalie Portman may shine in the role, but to what purpose?

Oscar-bait, the film is notable only for its recreation of the time period and for Portman's peformance. The problem with the former is the glamour is wasted as window dressing on a film without a reason to exist (other than grab Portman some statuettes). The problem with the later is Portman's performance is undercut by both a questionable accent and Noah Oppenheim's script which is never sure who Jackie was, as it jumps from portraying a vapid creature out of touch with reality (as seen in the flashbacks) to a woman of cunning and guile completely controlling an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) looking to find the real Mrs. Kennedy.

The film is also oddly shot and framed by cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine as it includes bizarrely-extreme closeups of the actors (particularly awkward in a sequence featuring Portman and John Hurt). Thrown together with a script bereft of any interesting facts to explore about one of the most famous First Ladies of the 20th Century and you are left with flawed film with only Portman to hang its hat on. But at least it looks pretty.

Portman shares the screen with several strong actors, but we don't get to know them any better than our leading lady. Peter Sarsgaard may not quite look the part of Bobby Kennedy, but he comes off better than John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant as Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird who never quite fit into the movie's plot (despite, you know, taking control of the country following the assassination). The script makes better use of Crudup as the unnamed reporter who knows when he's out of his depth and Greta Gerwig as Jackie's most trusted ally.

I know there are those praising the film for its style and for Portman's performance, but again I ask to what purpose? Yes the film has style, and yes Portman gives her all on-screen, but if we don't learn even the smallest fact about Jackie Kennedy why bother? Who was she? What was her mark on history? These are questions left unexplored by a film which, like Cruddup's reporter, is only present to see Jackie's reaction to one tragic day in Dallas. But at least it looks pretty.

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