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What Are Critics Saying About Kennedy in ‘Chappaquiddick?’

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.

RELATED: Will ‘Chappaquiddick’ Go the Full ‘Confirmation?’

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.

No.

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.

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37 Comments

  1. If the film is as honest as I suspect, I am surprised the clan hasn’t figured a way out as to how to stop it from being shown at all.

      1. There’s actually a myth popular among some Democrats that he’d let her drive, and just lied about it to spare her reputation, what with her nearly killing him.

  2. The Kennedy family has been chock full of utterly deplorable people: power lusting parasites who seek to be fawned upon by the masses.

  3. Here’s what we don’t know. Was Kopechne raped? Was Kopechne murdered before the wreck? Did Kennedy drown her and then stage the accident? We don’t know because after the accident the Massachusetts authorities did not perform an autopsy. Did not.

    1. The article infers that Kopechne drowned. That would suggest that she was alive when this happened. There is no benefit to arguing that she was already dead. What Ted Kennedy did was bad enough.

      1. What he is reputed to have done. Who said she drowned? The authorities who did not perform an autopsy? The cops? She might have drowned. We don’t know. No autopsy. If the fix was in it it could have been in for what was reported, i.e., what you are referring to as “bad enough”. Or Ted got away with a lot more than an “accident”. That he up and forgot to report for 10 hours.

    1. probably running to the lower side after all the inheritors , could answer Susan’s question as to why The Clan didn’t “stop it from being shown at all.”

  4. > Many of us wish there was a Kennedy-esque figure to offer leadership in place of the moral chasm

    Because nothing says moral integrity quite like a celebrating a leader whose drunken negligence caused a young woman to die, and who should have gone to prison for manslaughter — indeed, would have gone to prison if it had been Mr. Joe Blow instead of Senator Ted Kennedy.

  5. Was Ted in the car when it went off the bridge? If it turned over, how could you open a door against the water pressure?
    62.4 pounds against every square foot of door surface at pond surface level and increasing as depth increases. As I recall, it was cold, probably had windows closed.

      1. I doubt if he could squeeze out of a window. Also, if the car turned over, wouldn’t both of them be tangled together, unless they were wearing seat belts (only lap belts at that time) which I doubt?

  6. Joke in Massachusetts (where I live) at the time.
    What was the last thing Mary Jo Kopechne said to Teddy? “But darling what if I get pregnant? ” To which Teddy replied,”We’ll close that bridge when we come to it”.

  7. I don’t think there was any need for this movie and I question the motives ot those who made it. This is why Citizens United needs to be overturned, to prevent rich Republicans with a need to spew propaganda can be arrested for being the hate criminals that they are. Ted Kennedy did many great things for America and to have his legacy tarnished for cheap political points is disgusting. I’d open a hate crime investigation because Kennedy did more for minorities than anyone in history, yet white men want to take him down for it. That’s pure hate, and is no protected by the First Amendment despite what the Confederate flag-waving Republicans say.

    1. You realize Democrats started the Confederacy in response to the election of the first Republican president? And the reason Democrats started the Confederacy was to protect slavery? Because the Republican Party and Lincoln himself were opposed to slavery.

    2. If Ted Kennedy had been a Republican we would have already had 50 Chappaquiddick movies and “documentaries” and TV shows with a Chappaquiddick-esque plot.

      1. According to one story online, at the party that night, Kopechne staggered out of the house, and passed out in the back of Ted’s car. Then Ted and his companion, (not Kopechne) drove off for a little privacy, then drove off the bridge. Ted hustled his companion out of Dodge, and swam back to Edgartown.

        Bottom line – He didn’t know Kopechne was in the car!

        1. And maybe Santa Claus is real, too. If the real story was better for the Kennedys than the story ‘everybody knows’ they would have used it. But the real story is what ‘everybody knows’.

  8. The Kennedy clan have been criminals since the time that Joe Sr made the family fortune as a rum runner. John’s sexual escapades would have been the stuff of legend, had he been named Hugh Hefner. As a supposedly Catholic politician, however, he was just a sex hustler, archetype of Clinton . And Ted, he of the “waitress sandwiches”, was merely following in his brother’s footsteps.

  9. “Kate Mara, who plays Kopechne, admits she didn’t even know about the story before signing on to the project”

    This isn’t living in an impenetrable moral bubble filled with nothing but Democratic propaganda: this is stone-cold dumber-than-any-hillbilly-ever-could-be ignorance from a true Northeastern aristocracy Millennial.

  10. This happened the day after Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon, pushing the Moon off the front page. As my mother said then, “Leave it to the Kennedys to find a way to take all the attention for themselves.”

  11. Don’t you think it might be important to mention that the exact same group – the Koch Brothers Movie makers – that made the anti-Hillary Clinton movie dispersed in summer 2016 made this piece of garbage? Don’t you think that “the true story” which is actually only known now to two dead people is a bit of an over-statement? Don’t you think that a drunk man – and this is a time when society allowed drunk men (any color) to drive machinery without consequence – might not have a very good take on what was going on around him? Don’t you think that saying Joe Kennedy manipulated votes, by himself – an Irish Catholic NOT BACKED by the Wasp billionaire (then multi-millioniare) clans of the East – assumes a tremendous amount of power in one outsider’s hands? Sure, they let the Catholics play golf with them, but Catholic, Jew, Black – the WASPS didn’t like any of that crowd. The real crime in my book (and yea, I’m an Irish Catholic of sorts) is that the GOP, hating every gd successful Democrat that ever served, has been attacking and trashing the Kennedy family for a half a century – whether they imply Marilyn Monroe was killed by Bobby, or that John stole the election from the criminal Nixon – and y’all buy it every time. Every time. Who has been trashed more, the Clintons – or Nixon? Clintons. Who has been trashed more, Kennedy or the criminal Agnew. Kennedy. Every Kennedy. Who has been trashed more, FDR or the idiot Ford or Bush and his WMD? FDR. Who is in the White House now, due to fiddling with the vote and tying the USA to Mother Russia? Trump. Who wants to trash the Democrats and their icons for 2018? The GOP, and all their operatives, including Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, who put together this latest garbage and also the 2016 attack on Mrs. Clinton. Who put up the money for the Anti-Hillary movie? Citizens United Productions. Look it up. Grow the fork up, people.

  12. The Trumpians are in full BORE here. Not one thing y’all ever say is backed up by proof. You know, proof? The stuff that gets people indicted? The stuff that everyone can see, like photographs, audio tape (thanks Tricky Dick), witnesses? Nope. Y’all talk talk talk but not a shred of evidence – ever.

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