As written by Noah Oppenheim, Jackie purports to break one of the most popular First Ladies down to her core, constantly showing her rebuilding the façade so willingly shown to cameras and the general public during her time in the White House. Investigative journalist Theodore White (Billy Crudup) tries to use his time spent interviewing the recently-widowed Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) as a means of trying to crack this carefully-constructed woman, to humanize her and bring her back to a realm where she’s not out of the reach of everyday citizens.
This framing device – White sitting at a table with Kennedy while she tells her story – grounds the flashbacks in which this movie lives. Larraín’s vision of this film includes being disorienting as possible, making us feel as disjointed as Kennedy felt in the days and months after her husband’s assassination. Seemingly random cuts between White’s interview and scenes showing how Kennedy deals with the aftermath further jar us out of complacence and comfort.
A lot of the film’s discomfort stems from watching a woman – whom the American public has seen as put-together and well-maintained – fall apart in her private moments. The voyeurism I mentioned at this review’s beginning starts to include reality-television-like conjecture and histrionics, with a sordid delight at making the most out of Kennedy’s sorrow and confusion following the loss of her husband. It’s not too far off from the delight people get looking at latter-day gory horror movies and car accidents; Jackie focuses entirely on Kennedy losing her mind as she worries about her children, her own life, and her husband’s legacy.
Portman pulls off one hell of a stellar performance as Jacqueline Kennedy, with Portman walking that fine line between accurate portrayal and dramatic license. She absolutely nails Kennedy’s tone and tenor, almost creating a blur between actor and inspiration with how eerily well she captures Kennedy’s essence. Jackie is a woman of varying contradictions and second takes; she says exactly what’s on her mind, only to retract such statements from White’s story a moment later, telling him it wasn’t fit to print.
There’s no denying the artistry and talent in front of and behind the camera. The set designs and costumes of Kennedy’s White House are resplendent and fulsome, with attention to excruciating details and period accuracy. However, my issue with Jackie is its desire to deconstruct a formidable woman into hysterical tabloid fodder. Granted, it was done long before this movie, but Jackie doesn’t give us any great revelations or showcase any kind of journey. Ms. Kennedy-Onassis starts and finishes as a woman of her own mind in her own mind, and Larraín’s film doesn’t do anything to persuade us from thinking any differently about her or the events surrounding that fateful day in 1963.
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