Be Prepared for Jackie
As an avid filmgoer and Infinity Card holder, I usually avoid
reviews before I see a film, preferring to compare my own unprompted thoughts
with critics such as Mark Kermode after the event. However, with Jackie, I wish I had
seen the reviews first, because this is a film, or more specifically a
performance from Natalie Portman, which you really need to prepare for.
There’s no denying that Portman’s Jackie Kennedy is a great turn, but
it is incredibly hard to like. But then perhaps that is the intention. The
breathy, Marilyn Monroe voice and doll-like movements are deliberately discomforting
because she is playing a complex woman who herself is playing a complex role.
The character is both completely in control yet floundering; surrounded
by people yet devastatingly alone. She has the power and the final say on
Kennedy’s funeral arrangements, yet at the same time she is ostracised and shut
out by the speed of the changes around her, as the new administration of Lyndon
Johnson sweeps into the White House before she has even packed up her
We rarely see behind the façade as Jackie maintains her public persona,
sharing only a wordless mini-breakdown as she drinks heavily and relives the
glory days in dress after designer dress. This is a woman who has had to
sacrifice so much to be who everyone expected her to be with Kennedy, that she
has almost forgotten who she is without him.
Yet even as she loses her husband, her home and the father of her
children, it is him that she is determined to protect. His memory, his legacy,
Kermode describes the film as a kaleidoscope, and he’s absolutely
right. It is a jarring, disjointed montage of scenes that leaves you feeling
disturbed and uncomfortable. Jackie’s obsession with how these images are
reflected in the press, in the public eye, and ultimately in the pages of
history, only serves to heighten the analogy.
Director Pablo Larrain’s choice of a boxy 1.66:1 aspect ratio dials up
the sense of claustrophobia that Jackie feels as everything closes in around
her. Compared to the vast Cinemascope 2.55:1 of La La Land, this feels
intense and almost invasive in its intimacy. Jackie is allowed no personal
With the recent departure of one of the most loved First Ladies of
modern times, replaced by an altogether gruffer administration, Jackie arrives
with perfect timing. But don’t go expecting an easy ride. This is not your
average by-the-numbers biopic. You have to be prepared to work hard and see
behind Portman’s initially irritating impression of Jackie Kennedy, to truly understand
her situation and motivation.
At just 100mins, I felt that there was time available that could’ve been
used to give us a little more context; to explain Jackie’s life and the legacy
of Kennedy that she was fighting so hard to protect. A little longer would
also give you more time to see behind the studied, stilted performance to find
the reasons behind it.
Nonetheless, Jackie is well worth seeing - just make sure you go with
someone else, so you can peel away the layers together afterwards to get to the
heart of this intensely complex film.
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