We’re getting our first take on the Ted Kennedy biopic “Chappaquiddick” from three of the biggest entertainment sites on the scene.
The Hollywood Reporter, TheWrap.com and Variety all reviewed the new film via the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Would “Chappaquiddick,” starring Jason Clarke as the “Lion of the Senate,” obscure Kennedy’s horrific acts regarding the death of Mary Jo Kopechne? Or does the movie properly capture the decisions he made on July 18, 1969 that many believe led to her drowning?
So far, it’s hard to say.
Three different outlets came away with three very different reactions. Not to the film’s quality, necessarily. Those judgments are always subjective. It’s how the movie handles the subject matter that has split three critics.
For the uninitiated, Sen. Kennedy left a party on Chappaquiddick Island with Kopechne in the passenger seat. At one point Kennedy drove off the road and into a pond. The Senator managed to escape but Kopechne wasn’t so fortunate. Kennedy waited roughly 10 hours before calling for help, all the while calculating how to explain what happened and keep his political career afloat.
The Senator had been drinking at the time. Meanwhile, the young woman’s attempts to escape the submerged car failed.
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, a reliably liberal film critic, says the movie confirms our worst fears of that event.
Kopechne’s body was found in a position that implied that she was struggling to keep her head out of the water. And what the film suggests is that once the car turned upside down, she didn’t die; she was alive and then drowned, after a period of time, as the water seeped in. This makes Edward Kennedy’s decision not to report the crime a clear-cut act of criminal negligence — but in spirit (if not legally), it renders it something closer to an act of killing.
Gleiberman isn’t done. He let loose, defending his words by insisting they weren’t coming from a right wing troll:
The fact that the Kennedy family — the original postwar dynasty of the one percent — possessed, and exerted, the influence to squash the case is the essence of what Chappaquiddick means. The Kennedys lived outside the law; the one documented instance in American history of an illegally stolen presidential election was the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. He lost the race to Richard Nixon, but his father sealed the presidency for him by manipulating the vote tallies in Illinois. That’s the meaning of Chappaquiddick. too.
TheWrap.com suggests the film doesn’t ding the Kennedy legacy as expected. Instead, the critic mourns that we don’t have a new Kennedy on the political scene.
For those who expect a hatchet job against the Kennedy clan in “Chappaquiddick,” which premiered on Sunday at the Toronto Film Festival, they’ll have to keep waiting…
Indeed, the Kennedys’ moral failings are hardly what ails our democracy at this time. Many of us wish there was a Kennedy-esque figure to offer leadership in place of the moral chasm that faces the nation right now.
Finally, The Hollywood Reporter takes a middle ground approach. The film is a bit dull, according to its critic.
[‘Chappaquiddick’] theoretically opens the door for a tell-all approach to a sorry episode that always carried lurid overtones of drunkenness, sexual impropriety, cover-up and family influence exercised from on high. But the film is surprisingly low-key dealing in all of these areas, simply suggesting that, because the incident took place in Massachusetts, the family’s home state royal power obviously played a role…
What’s intriguing about the early reactions? No mention of “white privilege,” something modern film critics routinely carp on in similar situations. You’d think given what Kennedy got away with it would be in the first paragraph.
FAST FACT: Kennedy emerged from the tragedy with a two-month’s suspended sentence after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.
Co-star Ed Helms offers up the understatement of the year while describing the film to The Hollywood Reporter.
“A young Sen. Ted Kennedy crashed a car over a bridge, and there was a young woman in the car who died. Ted Kennedy then sort of didn’t handle it quite perfectly,” Helms explains.
Kate Mara, who plays Kopechne, admits she didn’t even know about the story before signing on to the project. Meanwhile, the cast members and director John Curran yuk it up while Clarke shares compares Kennedy to movie icon Steve McQueen, the unofficial King of Cool.