Movie Review – Chappaquiddick (2018)

Err…uh…I can’t err…uh believe that liberal Hollywood allowed this movie to be made, 3.5 readers.

BQB here with an…err…uh review.

It was the summer of 1969 and as America kept their eyes glued to the moon landing, i.e. the crowning achievement of former President John F. Kennedy’s support of the space program, another Kennedy was partying on an island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Ted was, for lack of a better term, the runt of the Kennedy litter.  Joseph Kennedy died a WWII veteran, John died when he was assassinated during his presidency, Robert died while running for president.  As Ted (Jason Clarke) states in the film, Joe was the favorite, John had the charm, Robert was brilliant and if you believe in odds, then that didn’t leave much for him.

Long story short, on the fateful night in question, Ted, with young campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne in his car, drives off a bridge.  He manages to escape but Mary Jo is left inside.  Rather than call the police for immediate help, he waits until the next morning to report the incident and well, as often happens, the cover up is worse than the crime.

Ted’s father, also named Joseph, a fabulously wealthy man who built a fortune as a bootlegger in the 1930s, is, at the time of the incident, a withered old stroke victim, little more than a disappointed expression glued on the face of a husk of a body.  He can barely get out a few words and when he does, it’s to let Ted know what a total letdown he is to the old man in comparison to his older, deceased brothers.

I hope I’m not spoiling this for anyone.  This is all old news for a politics junkie like me, but may be new to the general public.  I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot of the sordid details that went on behind the scenes in the ensuing “clean up.”

Joe Sr. maybe be physically useless, but his money, name and reputation still hold sway, and thus at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, a cavalcade of the best political fixers of the 1960s convenes, each man copiously reviewing every last conceivable angle, leaving no stone unturned in an effort to remove Ted from any ability to be prosecuted.  Favors are called in, the media is manipulated, the judicial system is turned on its ear.

The most damning fact that the team had to contend with?  That Mary Jo had a large pocket of air left in the car, meaning that if Ted had simply called for help right away, the police could have rescued her.  Thus, the ongoing theme that sometimes politicians worry so much about how their political careers will be affected that they don’t do the right thing and this is unfortunate, as it is doing the right thing that often saves a political career.  Had Ted called the cops, the whole night could have been chalked up to a funny story where Ted made a wrong turn into the pond but luckily everyone escaped ok but instead…well, he did the wrong thing, a woman died, and in doing the wrong thing, he didn’t become president.

Another ongoing theme is that sometimes, not every member of a powerful or famous family is up to snuff.  Ted admits he lacks his brothers’ talents and yet feels overwhelming pressure to pursue politics – a life he wasn’t cut out for, a life that killed two of his brothers and causes him stress that he can’t endure, perhaps why he turned to alcohol and womanizing in life, though allegations of alcoholism and womanizing are merely danced around in this film.  The movie focuses on what it can prove and only tangentially mentions longtime rumors, speculation, etc i.e. that Ted and Mary Jo were having an affair, that Mary Jo was pregnant, that Ted was drunk the night of the accident.

Jason Clarke is a dead ringer for Ted, while comic actor Ed Helms plays Ted’s cousin/longtime confidant Joe Gargan (a Kennedy family extended member who according to this film, longs to be considered an actual Kennedy but feels like all he is ever asked to do his be Ted’s fixer).  Meanwhile, comedian Jim Gaffigan plays Ted’s other confidant, former U.S. Attorney Paul Markham.

It’s ironic that in this very powerful, dramatic film, an Australian is called on to play an American politician, while two comedians are tapped to play the senator’s associates.  Frankly, to me, this is a sign that Hollywood probably wasn’t thrilled about this movie being made.  While Ed Helms has long been working on his chance to cross over into drama, I doubt Jim Gaffigan, a comic who jokes about how he eats too much and who to date, his most famous movie role is being the “Meow” guy from “Super Troopers” would have had a chance to play a US Attorney/Kennedy colleague unless there wasn’t a line of actors at the studio’s door looking to snatch up the role.

At any rate, I don’t want to get political, but I think we can all agree Tinsel Town is a liberal place.  That puts the film industry in a tough position – make this movie and tell a very interesting story about how there’s a double standard in the law for the rich and powerful…hide the story to protect the reputation of an iconic left-leaning political family dynasty….don’t tell the story and in so doing, ignore the #metoo movement that’s been sweeping over Hollywood, i.e. people demanding that stories of women being hurt by the powerful be told….tell the story and admit that one of the Democratic party’s top senators for many decades was a womanizing lout who got off scot free on a rap that would have left anyone else in prison for life…this was a movie with a lot of ramifications and it’s being made probably didn’t make a lot of powerful people happy.

I’m not giving the right a pass…I’m just saying, this is a story that has been waiting to be told for fifty years.  I remember as a kid whenever Ted Kennedy would come on TV, I would make a joke about his voice, crack a joke about Chappaquiddick, “I err uh left a blond in the err uh pond” and inevitably some adult would tell me to shush because didn’t I think the Kennedy family had suffered enough already?

Yeah, but no one seemed to care about Mary Jo’s suffering…until today, when the media is finally willing to listen to stories about women suffering at the hands of powerful men.  A film that was made 50 years too late to get Mary Jo some justice, but at least it was finally made.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.

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2 thoughts on “Movie Review – Chappaquiddick (2018)

  1. Jason says:

    Good review. To me, the movie was a slow burner, but it was well-acted. Basically, it was quite interesting, but not entirely riveting.

    • It could just be because I’m older. It was surreal that they made it. They managed to swing public opinion into thinking he was the victim and for many years people would say you were mean to criticize him about it…but different times now where a movie like this can be made.

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