Movie Title: Chappaquiddick
First Watch / Repeat Viewing
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 min.
Who did I watch with?: Flying Solo
Where did I watch it?: Regal Stadium 12 – Swansea, MA
Chappaquiddick is a well made movie that still treats its subject too lightly. Being from Massachusetts, I think most people locally are familiar with the story of what happened at Chappaquiddick Island. Ted Kennedy ended up having a long career as a senator following the events of this movie, but ended up falling short of presidential aspirations. That is the aspect of this story that the movie focuses on while it simultaneously juxtaposes it against the successful moon landing that was the vision of Ted’s brother John F. Kennedy. In reality Chappaquiddick didn’t end his bid for the presidency. He attempted to secure the nomination in 1980 against incumbent President Jimmy Carter and was moderately successful. But, the real story is that Ted Kennedy should have gone to prison and lost his senate seat. He didn’t because he was a Kennedy.
The fatal flaw with the movie is that it is not dark enough. I’m not sure why it aimed for a PG-13 rating. A political drama about a dead senator is not likely to draw a young audience. I’m certain that the actual events were far darker and the movie should have looked to capture that feeling of corruption. Instead it tries to spin Ted Kennedy into a sympathetic figure. The youngest son of a domineering father, admirably played by Bruce Dern, the sappiness applied to Kennedy is sickening. Ted Kennedy was 37 years old in 1969. He was an adult. He was rich. He could have done anything he wanted including getting out of politics. Instead of focusing on his privilege they focus on his youngest child syndrome and the “poor” treatment he receives from family and handlers alike. The movie conveniently glazes over his alcoholism and womanizing. He is not seen drinking at any point in the movie after the fatal accident. It is never insinuated that he was having an affair with Mary Jo Kopechne in the movie besides the shouts of rapid reporters and Ted Kennedy’s womanizing was legendary.
The story becomes one of spin as Kennedy weaves different stories about the events and Kopechne’s death becomes just another political tool that is replayed through different stories. For all my criticisms of the poor writing the acting is strong. Jason Clarke is exceptional in the leading role, but the rest of the cast is excellent as well. Ed Helms does a great job in the multi-faceted role of Joseph Gargan. Jim Gaffigan was great to see in a serious role and Kate Mara doesn’t get enough screen time as Mary Jo Kopechne. The music also helps drive the movie and keeps it from becoming droll.
For all its flaws it is an interesting movie to watch, but be mindful of the fact that it does not portray Ted Kennedy as the vile pig he was. See it.
Tomorrow’s Movie: Bridge of Spies (2015)