Review: Jackie (2016)

If you’d told me last year that I’d enjoy a Natalie Portman performance this much, much less call Jackie one of my favourite releases this awards season, I would have been very sceptical. But Jackie is masterfully crafted all-around, telling a greatly empathetic tale of grief. Spoilers under the cut.

Jackie is overwhelmingly artistic. It is practically vital to see it in cinemas, because it’s just simply too beautiful. The painful subject matter is juxtaposed by perfectly balanced cinematography. Each shot eerily unfolds one after another to reveal just the kind of world engulfing the tiny, presumably fragile Jacqueline Kennedy – a figure that prioritises appearances and poise, her status as an icon pushed to the forefront. Jackie’s outfits alone draw much attention to her, and she is always adorned in the most sumptuous dresses and suits; her wardrobe is very much a part of her persona and legacy as it suffocates her throughout this entire ordeal. She wants to fall apart but it is not only the world that doesn’t let her – she won’t let herself. And it’s mesmerising to watch.

Natalie Portman has never been more magnetic onscreen as she is in this film. Her unusual accent and awkward mannerisms that admittedly troubled me in the trailer fit seamlessly into the narrative world, even from the first moment she speaks. Portman modulates her voice whenever Jackie has to present herself differently to various groups of people. Staff and family alike are all in need of her attention and opinion. However, some still attempt to side-step her personal journey of loss and anguish via politics. That’s what makes a particular sequence in the film – that of her drinking alone in the White House as she tries on outfit after outfit from her expansive arsenal of clothes – so poignant and heartbreaking. Portman’s/Jackie’s small stature is wrapped up in the finest of fabrics and designs, and her entire being is swallowed up by this gigantic, affluent, cold, empty structure she had learnt to call home, at least for a time. It’s one of the ways the film richly commentates on itself, its protagonist, and history as it had really been; all at the same time.

Sadness drowns and destabilises, and one of the ways the film approaches Jackie’s frenetic mindset is through the extreme close-ups on not just her face as she speaks. Sometimes the camera caresses the back of her head and the edges of her profile. It’s too close for comfort; voyeuristic but captivating. There are many slow zooms into her as she is positioned in the centre of the frame, but she also places herself in those situations and demands that things be done her way. This is her story and she will be damned to tell it the way she wants, even if it is messy, and heavily and choppily edited. Music is another method used to convey Jackie’s convoluted emotions alongside the camerawork. It swells at unexpected times, and the audience is hit with a rush of inexplicable sadness whenever it happens. It kind of perfectly mirrors the ebb and flow of the grieving processes – how there are peaks and troughs (calmness and overbearing emotion) throughout that occur suddenly. One can’t help but feel fully affected by the experience.

By the time the final thirty minutes of the film happened, I was shaking in my seat trying to hold back sobs. Jackie walks with her husband’s casket to its final resting place. She has that last baring conversation with her priest. She reveals exactly what she wants out of the article spawning from Billy Crudup’s interview, mentioning Camelot. All this is intertwined with expert deftness that crescendos into Jackie ultimately allowing herself to fully reminisce. She says in the middle of the film that all her good memories are mixed up with the bad ones, and she is unable to take solace in them. But by the time the story is over, she manages to find strength in her grief. There is no sense that she takes full control over it, but she does (re)gain traction in rewriting her own narrative to become something empowering. The film, which has positioned Crudup alongside members of the audience, comes to terms with the fact that this is the way Jackie is, and he respects her for it. Yet, the utter genius of this movie is that he was never the one retelling or packaging her for consumption in the first place. She edits the copy herself, and she allows herself a space to grieve openly before retracting statements with quickfire wit if it doesn’t suit her image; she never needed his respect.

The Jackie Kennedy in this film is simultaneously frail and powerful, and the movie itself doesn’t shy away from allowing her to occupy the audience’s curiosities and be the emotional centre of it at the same time. This is a portrayal that fascinates, but it never objectifies her, and very adeptly navigates the ever-present conundrum of legacy and the ugliness that crafts it. Beauty transcends the piece as a whole because it looks, sounds and feels amazing, and does so in a deeply soulful and honest manner. I frankly was not expecting to adore this film, but now I cannot get enough of it and can’t wait to see it again.

★★★★★

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