Jackie, the new Jackie Kennedy biopic from director Pablo Larraín following the First Lady in the days immediately after the assassination of JFK, is a film that posits the notion that the office of the President of the United States of America is one that is defined just as much, if not more so, by those surrounding it as by the person actually inhabiting in. A person can hold the office for eight years, but eventually, inevitably, the only living, breathing legacy that will remain is old people who remember seeing the President on TV and hearing their parents talk about the President at dinner as kids.
It’s a notion that isn’t lost on Jackie Kennedy, portrayed by Natalie Portman, who’s quest throughout the course of the film is setting her husband’s legacy on the right tracks as history chugs on without him. She finds herself frantically hammering and shaping out the mold of her husband’s brief presidency even as the plaster is already pouring in. It’s a film that seeks to define its subject via the subject’s own attempts to define someone else.
Narratively, the premise of writer Noah Oppenheim’s script is compelling enough not to warrant any particularly fancy chronological footwork, but the film unfolds like a convoluted remix, verses and choruses and bridges shuffled about in what feels like no particular order. The film might have benefited from allowing its narrative to unfold linearly.
Additionally, many of the scenes showcasing Jackie Kennedy’s private reactions to her husband’s death, as well as one-on-one conversations with various confidants, begin to feel gratuitously speculative. Much of the film’s characterization of its subject stems from imagined interactions and conjured up moments of solitary anguish. The fact that so many of the scenes are imagined leaves the film feeling like it’s painting a Jackie Kennedy it wants to make a movie about, rather than Jackie Kennedy.
Ultimately I felt as though the film took too many liberties when filling in blanks that aren’t ours to fill in. But in all fairness, I seriously don’t know shit about Jackie Kennedy. Like, nothing. So, you know, grains of salt.
As a biopic Jackie feels inconsistent, pivoting between condemning the vanity of the First Lady and praising the fortitude of a widow – albeit accompanied all the way by a phenomenal score from Mica Levi. But as an observation of the presidency and the disparity that often exists between the institution and the human being, it offers no shortage of substance.