Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Chapter On Beige Window Drapes

Natalie Portman as Jackie.


Upon viewing the film Jackie last night I was surprised and not surprised at how uninteresting and pointless it felt. I approached this film with the hopes it would be an elegant and sophisticated film with nuances and insights into the life of the woman that was known for her elegance and sophistication. Instead what I watched was a film so narrow in its scope and so disjointed that I was disappointed in every way. Even though the film has a running time of less than 100 minutes it felt like it took an eternity to finish. Glaciers have gouged the landscape and melted into the sea faster than this film creeped onward.

At its most basic level this is a film about planning a funeral and that could be an interesting story...maybe... but it wasn't. Okay so it is a film about planning a funeral about a U.S. president which could make it more interesting...but again it wasn't.

There is no meat on the bone with this story because we have had decades to be familiarized with this story. This film is only a chapter in a story and that alone isn't enough to make a film. Watching Portman sweep around in fabulous clothes doesn't a film make. There's nothing here to keep the mind engaged as we already know what happened that Kennedy is killed, there's a funeral and Jackie retreats into a very private life. The plot is so condensed into such a small slice of her life, covering the assassination, the funeral, and the week after that we get no sense of whom Jackie was as a person. You cannot consider this a biopic because it only shows such a small window of time in her life and even during this small glimpse the character is as interesting as beige window drapes. If you are going to make a film about one of the most famous people during one of the most infamous events in American history then you should damn well provide some new insight into the characters or the event. This film does neither.

The film is clearly intended as Oscar bait given that it is a drama, released late in the year and it tackles a heavy historical subject. By gosh the Oscars took the bait nominating this film for three Oscars and not a soul should be surprised. I will say that I am pleased this wasn't given a nomination for Best Picture. If this film had been released in March or April of 2016 then most assuredly it would have been forgotten come Oscar time.

Famous scene from the 1976 film Carrie starring Sissy Spacek.

Who hasn't seen the Zapruder film millions of times and doesn't have the image of John Kennedy's head exploding like a watermelon etched into their brains? It would have been better to have alluded to or to film the blood and brains scene in a more restrained manner. We all know how it looked and so having the slow motion scenes of an exploding head was gratuitous. If you wanted to show that day in Dallas you'd have been better off limiting it to reaction shots of Jackie and only offer glimpses of the gore. A little mystery could have went a long way in keeping this a more sophisticated film. Plus the scene of Jackie in the shower washing off the blood and the water turning red made me think of that scene from Carrie where Sissy Spacek gets a bucket of blood dropped on her head, that scene was completely unnecessary filler.

Natalie Portman as Jackie in a scene shot in France.

I've come to the conclusion that I will never like Natalie Portman as an actor. People praised her to no end in the film Black and White, oh sorry, I mean The Black Swan and I thought they must have watched another film than I had. The Black Swan is a campfest and so literal that I think you'd have to be comatose not to get it. So here is Portman again getting heaps of praise and even an Oscar nomination in a mediocre film. I will say it again but imitation is not the same as acting. It wasn't even a good imitation of Jackie either. Yes, the real Jackie had a very specific manner of speaking but she never looked as though she was suffering a seizure with a taut neck and constantly exposing her teeth. Portman made it seem that Jackie was a stroke survivor. The real Jackie was elegant, unusual and proper but she never looked as if she was in pain while speaking.

The soundtrack is haunting and beautiful and it is too bad that the film itself couldn't match the quality of the music. The film score by Mica Levi transcends this film and it is wasted being attached to it. The music is unnerving, restrained but soars at the right moments and captures the dark and bleak mood that this film couldn't portray with any sophistication. If there is any genuine emotion in this film it comes from the music. Levi was rightfully nominated for an Oscar.

This unfortunate trend in Hollywood continues of making films that are all style over substance. These films look pretty but are so shallow with nothing meaningful to take away with us back to reality. Maybe this film was intended as one last nostalgia trip for the baby boomers and their fantasy Camelot because I have no idea what this film was intended to be about. I could learn more about a person by looking at a stranger's Instagram feed than I could by watching this film.