2016 has been a tremendous year for indies. I have been disappointed by most of the franchise releases and found relief in indie films like Love and Friendship, Hell or High Water and Everybody Wants Some. However, not all the heralded indies have worked for me, and I’m afraid I have to add Pablo Larrain’s latest Jackie to the dislike pile. I can see why others are drawn to it but it actively irritated me with the choices it made.
Jackie tells the story of first lady Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband President John F Kennedy. Natalie Portman plays Jackie and we get to see her in different eras including in flashback guiding TV cameras through her recently renovated White House. Then we go back and forth between the day of the shooting, an interview 9 days later, and the planning of the funeral.
The problem is Pablo Larrain chose to portray Jackie as a flat emotionally distant character. I cannot understand why they decided to make her so robotic. I joked with a friend afterwards that I kept expecting it to turn into Westworld at the end and she be a robot. Even when she is saying emotional things it doesn’t feel emotional because of the robotic delivery. I got the impression that Larrain and the team didn’t like or admire Jackie very much to portray her in this way.
I’m really surprised this film is getting the praise it is because to me it made very heavy-handed decisions. Like do we really need to hear ‘Camelot’ played not once but twice over montages of Jackie drinking or smoking? Talk about laying it on thick…
In some ways you can tell Jackie is made by a non-American (Pablo Larrain is Chilean). It feels like if I were to go to a museum of Canadian history. It’s all important stuff and I am interested in it but I have no personal attachment to the events on display. That’s what Larrain’s treatment of Jackie felt like. She was cold, distant and thoroughly bland. She had to be more interesting than this script portrays her as! There were a few moments where she manipulates the reporter that were satisfying but that’s about it.
There is a good line where she talks about how she never spent the night with her husband. Now that is a devastating revelation. That’s a revelation that could have been interesting to explore. This seemingly perfect couple that really wasn’t. But the film doesn’t dive into that. It merely keeps adding on the robotic scenes of her packing and insisting on having a Lincoln-like funeral for her husband.
Honestly, the longer the movie went on the more annoyed I got. It was so repetitive in its choices that it never engaged me. It seems a shame that such a fascinating woman would get such a dull, one-note portrayal. Sure it is well made and shot with accurate costumes/production values, but I did not enjoy watching it. I didn’t even think Portman was that good but it isn’t really her fault as the script and direction gives her little to work with.
Some people had issues with the storytelling of Sully this year but at least that was about a fully fledged person with light and darkness, pain and joys. This is just a robot woman who happened to be first lady. Not for me
The whole time I kept wishing I could watch Grey Gardens instead. Now that has some characters! There is no way any woman related to them could be so boring.
Overall Grade- C-
I will say this is a very mild R rating with a couple of F words and some blood from the assassination.