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"Jackie" highlights just how good Natalie Portman can be

"Jackie" highlights just how good Natalie Portman can be

The best biopics do more than tell the story of their subject for a couple of reasons. First, trust the source material only as far as you can throw it: even the best biopics (“Steve Jobs,” “Capote,” etc.,) aren’t perfect recitations of their lead's life and it’d be foolish to think the same “Jackie” is any different. 

Where “Jobs” focuses on three keynotes over the span of a few decades, “Jackie” begins with an interview of the titular First Lady shortly after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. From there we leap backwards, though never further back than the early days of the couple in the White House. 

That mostly works, though it takes an awfully long time for a 90-minute film to establish a theme beyond “Jackie Kennedy sure was complicated.” That’s established right from the outset, as Natalie Portman’s Kennedy makes it clear she reserves the right to edit the content of the unnamed reporter’s story at any time. 

That may very well be a wink and nod from the filmmakers to not take anything in the film at face value. That’s why it’s puzzling it took so blessedly long for the film to take on a theme beyond its title character: that is, finding a meaning and legacy in a chaotic and ultimately meaningless life. 

That’s the thread that connects Jackie to JFK, Robert Kennedy and the priest in the film. The concept of legacy and a life not wasted is the most compelling in a film featuring a killer soundtrack and wonderful performances; unfortunately, we don’t get as much of that as I would have liked. 

Instead there are hints of the usual Kennedy drama. You know, the standard shit. Was it terrible being married to JFK (probably), did Jackie ever manage to find stability following her husband’s death (eh), was the legacy of JFK totally blown out of proportion (probably)? 

All of that is made more compelling by Portman, who absolutely nails Kennedy every step of the way. The way she moves between the “historical” clips and the “present day” footage is incredible and keeps the film incredibly engaging. 

Still, that doesn’t quite bring “Jackie” into the upper echelon of biopics. It feels like it’s missing either the necessary information to give us a fully fleshed out narrative or a real commitment to its theme to abandon that narrative completely. Instead, a great performance helps make “Jackie” another vehicle for Portman to remind us she’s one of the best in the business. 

Man, remember how bad the writing in the Star Wars prequels is?

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