Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE. Photo by Pablo Larrain. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
After seeing impossibly high RottenTomatoes scores for La La Land and Manchester by the Sea, I thought that maybe critics were trolling me. I don’t think they are. Now I know critics are trolling me. Because there is absolutely no way they could get hooked on this much Oscar bait in a single year without at least some degree of malicious intent. You can laugh, but how else do you explain why something like Jackie is getting great reviews for apparently no reason?
Jackie completes the Oscar bait trifecta. La La Land was the throwback to Old Hollywood that revisited a dead genre, Manchester by the Sea was the Boston-set, white, working-class drama and Jackie is the stuffy period piece that tries to “wow” us with a scandalous look behind the scenes of a sanitized moment in American history. Usually, we only get one of these types of films hogging annual “Best Films” lists and awards seasons. Of course, 2016—in a very 2016 move—gave us all three, and saved the worst for last. Jackie was the last 2016 film I wanted to see before I made my Top Ten list, so at least there’s closure.
The film opens and, almost immediately, you can tell that what you’re about to watch is very, very dull. For the most part, Jackie tells the story of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) navigating a dreamlike state of grief following the assassination of her husband. As soon as you realize the story is told through an interview with a Life magazine reporter and corresponding flashbacks, you sigh, as you realize using one of the oldest storytelling tricks in film is as clever as Jackie is going to get. However insightful Jackie tries to be about its key historical figure, it never gets far because the film is just sort of dumb.
I know that’s not terribly sophisticated criticism, but simply “dumb” is the essence of everything that is wrong with Jackie. The narrative isn’t clever, the filmmaking isn’t clever, the “insights” aren’t clever and even the performances feel like shockingly shallow caricatures for such talented actors. Portman has received all sorts of acclaim for playing Jackie Kennedy…but why? Her performance doesn’t just feel like an impression; it feels like a really bad impression. Other respected actors show up to deliver more bad impressions of other Kennedys and whatnot, and most just come off as silly.
I’m truly stunned by how much I disliked Jackie. It’s even more alarming that so many folks are celebrating such a fundamentally stupid film. I’m still not convinced the praise is the real and critics aren’t just trying to mess with me, because the only redeeming quality of the film is that it’s not offensive. Nope, it’s just normal terrible. Hopefully, critics aren’t just checking off another box in Oscar Bait Bingo because there are much better 2016 films that could seriously use the spotlight.
Grade = D-