This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: John Curran
Genre: Drama, Thriller
There is rarely anything bigger in the news than a political scandal. Celebrity scandals can get insane, sure, but watching politicians make absolute messes out of their careers is something the media thrives on. Not that anyone ever actually does anything about these scandals, or impeach those who are the subject of those scandals, but I digress. The true story of a painful tragedy and the public embarrassment of a politician—a Kennedy no less—should be the perfect formula to set a film like CHAPPAQUIDDICK up for success, right? Well, I was wrong. The industry can botch even the most promising of biographical Oscar bait.
CHAPPAQUIDDICK takes a look at the events surrounding a car accident involving senator Ted Kennedy, the youngest of the politically famous brothers, that took the life of Mary Jo Kopechne, a campaign strategist for the Kennedy family. Director John Curran has a few films under his belt, some American, such as WE DON”T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, and some Australian, such as TRACK. None of them, however, have been massive financial or critical success stories. CHAPPAQUIDDICK apparently exceeded box office expectations and critics are praising it more than any of Curran’s other films. To be honest, that makes me want to throw my hands up in the air and give up on the entertainment industry.
Mary Jo Kopechne (played by Kate Mara) deserved better. She really did.
CHAPPAQUIDDICK’s tone didn’t match what was appearing before me on screen in any way, shape, or form. I couldn’t for the life of me tell if I was supposed to feel sorry for Teddy or hate his guts. Personally, I think he’s an idiot and an asshole, but then the film was trying to throw his father’s immense disappointment in him as some sort of explanation for reckless actions, which simply doesn’t work. How can you set a film up for me to dislike someone, and then attempt to change my mind for five minutes, and then want me to hate him again? No one may ever know to the nth detail exactly what happened that week, and I’m not even saying that the film should take a specific stance. It’s just that throwing viewers through several contradicting hoops doesn’t make for controversy, it makes for confusion.
CHAPPAQUIDDICK seemed like it was trying so desperately hard to be dramatic and get an Oscar nom that it felt inauthentic. Not only was the tone confusing, but the week of events that it tried to cover felt like nothing more than a jumbled mess. Maybe the real life week was a disaster, but the film itself shouldn’t feel like a wreck. Ed Helms sports a Boston accent for the first five minutes in the film and then drops it. Jason Clarke, an Australian actor who played the seemingly deranged Teddy Kennedy, didn’t even use a Boston accent, just a poorly generic American one. To add insult to injury, Clarke portrayed his role so subtly that we never actually step foot in Ted’s mind. The viewer can tell that he appears to be losing it, but that’s it. I couldn’t understand the emotions of a man who is the remaining legacy of one of the most powerful families in the world and stained that legacy with negligence resulting in the loss of a poor girl’s life. That’s sad. This is the most complex week in the fourth Kennedy’s mind, and I got nothing. Nada. How does one screw that up so badly?
Come on Teddy, give me something, ANYTHING, other than that face
The Kennedy family is unfortunately plagued with tragedy. Joseph, John, and Bobby were all killed before touching 50. They were all men who went far and did great things for the country. Watching Ted Kennedy basically watch his life unfold as the screw-up of the famed family and do nothing but add to that despair should have been much more emotional than it was. Filmmakers shouldn’t just rely on the story to create reactions from an audience. They have to put in effort to build up scenes, to make the audience care. Otherwise, all you get is a movie with a few well known names. CHAPPAQUIDDICK was not any sort of poignant or stirring at all.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend