“The film is frustratingly obvious and pushes the viewer into a passive role. We watch Jackie lay everything bare, leaving no room for personal curiosity.”
Title: Jackie (2016)
Director: Pablo Larraín 👨🏽🇨🇱
Writer: Noah Oppenheim 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Without an inherent curiosity for Jackie Onassis or the events surrounding Kennedy’s assassination, there isn’t much to draw the viewer in. Natalie Portman does a decent job portraying Jackie’s process of grief amidst the chaos of her husband’s assassination; however, the film relies on her acting to carry the entire film, almost to an unfair extent as the camera fixates on her face, scrutinizing its various contortions as jarring fluctuations of silence or heavy orchestra lend an air of immense gravitas that is hard to live up to.
It’s too much responsibility to place on just one actress. Beyond surface-level deliveries of sadness, defiance, shock, or other rote emotions, there is little undercurrent of anything more. Portman switches between the expressions well enough, but through no fault of hers the film lacks an inner world despite its very efforts to portray a voyeuristic, behind-the-scenes study of Jackie Kennedy.
I found this film heavy-handed and would’ve given it a 2/5 but compromised at 3/5 when taking into account critics’ consensus (8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes and 81/100 on Metacritic).
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Unlike so many films with female leads who unfortunately see their screen time eroded by male support characters—Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Ex-Machina, or The Hunger Games come to mind—Jackie walks the walk. Portman is almost always on screen and she receives the largest share of dialogue, so this film gets an easy 5/5 on Gender.
All White cast, but accurate for the context of this story. While we normally grade 3/5 for a film that doesn’t move the needle but remains accurate to its true-life context, I lowered the score for the following reasons:
- This was a film made in 2016 that offered 0/51 roles to Non-White actors. Not good enough.
- In 1960, over 11% of the U.S. population was Non-White.* Based off the 51 characters listed on IMDB, we could’ve seen up to five background characters of color and still had it be believable for the era, especially in crowd shots. Yet no efforts were made to be inclusive from a racial standpoint. At some point, you have to stop making excuses.
Mediaversity Grade: C 3.33/5
Portman does her best, but director Larraín bites off more than he can chew with Jackie as he force-feeds us an excess of grief, complete with wracking sobs and dripping make-up against a backdrop of oppressive silence or overpowering instrumentals.
Overall, it’s all so, frustratingly, obvious and pushes the viewer into a passive role as we observe the film laying everything bare, leaving no room for personal curiosity.
For awhile, I tried to pay attention and dutifully watched as Jackie grieved or presented a stiff upper lip with all the subtlety of a hammer. But she didn’t need my help in telling her story. And so, perhaps selfishly, I tuned it out altogether.