Natalie Portman is Jackie Kennedy.
Dramatizing an event for film or television already heavily ingrained in history and culture presents challenges: actors may look different than their real-life counterparts, events could be changed or forgotten, the overall “feel” of the event (due to music, costumes or other production quirks) can be lost. Historical pieces are tricky, but when handled with ingenuity, these films stand as a crowning achievement in the world of cinema.
Typically portrayed for her style and elegance, Jackie gives us a rare glimpse of the First Lady as she gives a revealing look at her tenure at the White House and introduces the idea of Camelot following the JFK assassination for an article in Life magazine. The film gives us an opportunity to experience a side of Jackie seldom explored and how she cemented her husband’s legacy. Said Jackie in the interview: “There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot.”
Directed by Pablo Larraín, the film depicts Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy’s life while she served as First Lady of the United States and her life after the 1963 assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy. In the world of biopics, it steers from conventional film-making and showcases a rarely explored portion of history. We know the story of the assassination, but the intimate look into Jackie’s world following JFK’s death is seldom explored. The audience is given an opportunity to experience the First Lady’s point of view carried tremendously by Natalie Portman.
From her voice to her simplest movements, Portman fully emulates Jackie Kennedy. Her ability to seem fragile, weak and aloof, yet still able to command respect, is one of the greatest accomplishments of this performance. There are poignant scenes of solitude where Jackie has to grasp the magnitude of what transpired. Guilt, anger, grief all engulf her at some point and help express her state of mind. Portman understands the significance of this role and the mindset of the former First Lady. If my vote counted for the Academy Awards, Portman is my winner for Best Actress.
Natalie Portman’s ability to transform into Jackie Kennedy is an incredible feat. A problem with many biopics is the fact that actors stick out as themselves. When Leonardo DiCaprio signed on to the forgettable J. Edgar, I couldn’t invest in the role, because all I saw and heard was Leonardo Dicaprio, not J. Edgar Hoover.
Another challenge for this film was taking Jackie beyond her well-known cultural icon status, and into a unknown, intimate portrait of the First Lady. Jackie Kennedy remained a social figure until her death in 1994 and has been recreated on screen for both film and television. Portman successfully conquered the role reaching deep inside the emotionally complex side of Jackie lesser known to the public. Portman’s Jackie Kennedy actually feels like the audience is watching and hearing the actual person.
Despite the film swirling around JFK’s assassination, the film is not all doom and gloom. Another way we understand Jackie’s power is by the White House tour she gave to television cameras prior to the assassination. Graceful and informative, Jackie offers an exclusive inside look of the White House. The audience is given another look at Jackie–happier and more vocal–and the power she commands. What could have proven to have been dull on screen is vibrant thanks to Portman’s effortless charisma.
Jackie is also a beautiful film to look at. Both the costumes and makeup are a perfect blend of simple and lavish that completely replicate the period. The score is powerful. The directing puts the performances at center stage.
I loved the histoorical tidbits included in Jackie–some more mythical than others. I smiled at the inclusion of Clint Hill, who was the Secret Service agent who jumped on the back of the motorcade in Dealey Plaza. I enjoyed the inclusion the song Camelot, sung by Richard Burton, and the unofficial nickname for John F. Kennedy’s administration. Most importantly, I adored Jackie’s fascination and appreciation for history and her calculated interview with Life magazine that would shape the JFK legacy.
In a revealing scene near the beginning of the film, she asks the driver and nurse in the vehicle she rides in if they know who James Garfield or William McKinley were. They don’t. She asks if they know Abraham Lincoln. They do. This cements her realization that leaving a memorable legacy is crucial.
Jackie is a biopic that deviates from the norm. Because of that, the audience enters the mind of Jackie Kennedy at an incredibly emotional time. Nonetheless, the few years at the White House perfectly illustrates who Jackie Kennedy was and how she operated. Behind the notable voice and fashion is a woman who understands how the world operates and is determined to leave a legacy.