Teddy Kennedy and “Chappaquiddick”

Right upfront, this is NOT a policital post, it’s a movie review. If you want politics, you won’t find it here. Well, maybe a tiny bit of politics…

My fiancé saw it on Sunday afternoon and I’ve got a few comments to make about it.

Obviously, Ted Kennedy was an almost-larger-than-life figure and the particulars over the events that happened during the summer of 1969 on Chappaquiddick island have been a big topic of conversation for decades. When I’d first heard that the movie was in the works I had little interest – I figured it was going to be slanted one way or another.

After reading a few positive reviews (and a couple of negative ones), we decided to go and were very glad we did.

I actually saw Ted Kennedy in person, in the Senate, back in 1983. It was just after my junior year of high school and my family did a cross-country trip that included a few days in D.C.. We went up onto the viewing section in the Senate and some kind of roll call was going on. Being a bit of a nerd back in the day (OK, still a bit of a nerd today but I was also even more of one back then), I recognized a handful of Senators. Frankly, I was a bit more excited to see Barry Goldwater than Ted Kennedy, but it was still a big deal.

The first takeaway from the movie for me was disgust at Kennedy’s lack of character.

Much of the internal thinking and motivation surrounding his actions are supposition, of course, as there’s no way to know what was going on in his head. But his actions that are known, such as not reporting the accident for 9 hours, having multiple interactions with various people during that time frame and not mentioning it, and faking the neck injury at the funeral, are all indicative of (at least) fear and uncertainty or (at worst) the primacy of self-preservation and to evade responsibility.

The second takeaway was how strong the Kennedy influence was during the aftermath.

All manner of friends and goverment officials were involved in making sure the story was carefully managed and that the Kennedy-focused narrative was the only one that was released. Even if the Senator’s (final) version of events was exactly correct, that he tried multiple times to save her and then was too exhausted to do anything more, those surrounding him made sure that the truth was a secondary priority. Based upon the various stories I’ve read since the movie was released, both friendly to the Senator as well those that were critical of him, it’s accepted fact that the entire process, starting from jsut after the body was discovered, was heavily influenced and managed by individuals in the Kennedy camp and not those actually responsible in the towns involved.

The final was compassion for the difficulty of being the 4th and least impressive Kennedy brother.

The movie starts out with a news reel announcing Joseph Jr.’s death in WW2, followed by Jack and then Bobby’s assassinations. Those shoes were just too big for Ted to fill and its a theme that runs throughout the entire film. References to Jack and Bobby and how great/wonderful/missed/tragic they were seemed to be a part of every conversation in the movie – their deaths (preceeding the Chappaquiddick event by 6 and 1 years respectively) cast a massive shadow on the Senator.

The film itself is also very well done. The feel is very late 60’s and the camera shots are close and tight throughout. There are no soaring vistas or dramatic scenes – it’s almost documentary-like in the way it was shot. It works.

Jason Clarke absolutely nailed it as the young Senator and was a pleasure to watch. To me he is most recognizable from “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Everest” and I’ve always liked him. I don’t know enough about Boston-area accents nor Kennedy’s actual voice to parse the nuances of his speech patterns, but to me they seemed spot on. And I was further surprised when I discovered, while looking up details for writing this, that he’s 4 months younger than me and from Queensland, Australia.

Poor Kate Mara. Her husband horribly died in “We Were Soldiers,” ss Zoe Barnes she was killed by a politician in “House of Cards,” and this time as Mary Jo Kopechne she was (maybe?) killed by a political again. I’ve always loved her, assumed that she’d fall desperately in love with me if she ever met me in real life, and wasn’t disappointed with the blonde-colored hair and her role in this film, either.

The final two major characters of note, Kennedy’s cousin Joseph Gargan and U.S. Attorney Paul Markham, were played excellently by Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan. It’s odd to see two actors that I normally associate with comedy in these roles, but I loved their portrayals. The scene were they dive into the water to see if they could do something did make me laugh. Gaffigan uses his weight as a constant reference point in his comedy and it made me laugh to see him in his boxer shorts on top of car. I can’t wait to hear some joke of his in the future about this scene, because there’s just too much potential gold in that for him to ignore it.

Lastly, I do have to mention a couple of things about the theater at which we saw the movie: AMC at The District in Tustin. I bought the tickets online via Fandango because they were almost HALF THE PRICE of those at the Edwards Spectrum. Nuts. Almost half the price. So that was awesome. Also, the fantastic reclining seats at that theater have heaters in them – something I don’t care about at all (in fact, I’d prefer fans or even little air conditioners), but my Daniela LOVED that super cool feature!


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