‘Chappaquiddick’ holds Kennedy accountable for tragic incident
“I’m not going to be president” are the first words uttered by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) when his friends Joe (Ed Helms) and Paul (Jim Gaffigan) find him sopping wet inthe backseat of a car parked outside of a house party on Chappaquiddick Island in the wee hours of July 19,1969. It’s not the car in which he left the party with Mary Jo Kopechne ( Kate Mara), and she is nowhere to be seen. Heavy weighs the crown of the last standing Kennedy son, and with one horrible mistake, he can see his future, which will never involve the White House.
There’s no dearth of mysterious legends to mine fromthe dark, glamorous lore of the Kennedy clan. And Ted Kennedy’s involvement in the fatal car accident that took the life of Kopechne has yet to receive the cinematic treatment, until now, in John Curran’s focused “Chappaquiddick,” written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. It’s a lucid depiction of the tragic scandal, resulting in the death of a young woman, an irreparable blackmark on Kennedy’s career.
It’s almost as if the filmmakers had to wait for an actor like Jason Clarke to come along to truly tell this story the right way. The brawny Australian actor slips seamlessly into the Boston accented burly physicality of Teddy Kennedy, disappearing completely into the role. His Kennedy is cerebral and contemplative, highly aware of his family legacy, often selfish, caught up in his own image and sometimes completely disassociated from reality.
“Chappaquiddick” doesn’t try to understand why Kennedy did what he did— drunkenly driving his car off a bridge, leaving the submerged vehicle with Kopechne’s body inside and failing to report the incident to police for 10 hours — but it carefully illustrates the enormous pressure of his name and family, and his emotionally abusive father, Joe (Bruce Dern).
With Allen and Logan’s script, and legendary cinematographer Maryse Alberti, Curran crafts a detailed depiction of the enclosed culture of 1960s Martha’s Vineyard, and particularly Chappaquiddick Island, a far-flung seaside village where time and place seem to cease to exist, cut off from the real world. The freedom of this place, and the familiar sense of safety and support, creates the conditions for these events to unfold as they did, not just the drunk driving but the sense that the event is something that can be controlled and contained.
Alberti’s cinematography works in concert with the editing by Keith Fraase to create an aesthetic that is ominous and textured, flickering between the subjective and objective. The moments leading up to the accident are dreamy, observational snatches of memory caught and hung for a moment. The bridge and headlights loom large out of the darkness again and again like a threat.
Fraase laces flashbacks of the crash throughout Teddy’ s consciousness. Even if he walked away intact, he can’t escape the sound of her last warning, his own yells in the night, and we can’t escape Mary Jo’s last gasps of air. While the intrigue of the political machinations in the aftermath are gripping, the film never ignores the horror of the death Kopechne suffered, a long, cruel drowning.
“Chappaquiddick” seeks to expunge Kennedy’s record of the incident, so loaded with rumor, gossip and lies, or condemn him, or justify his actions. It holds him accountable, and grapples with the impossible question of doing the “right” thing, but that question is almost moot. There are just the choices you make, the actions you take and the consequences thereof. The way Kennedy handles it changes his life, and the course of history.
“Chappaquiddick,” an Entertainment Studios release, is rated PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing images, some strong language and historical smoking. Running time: 101 minutes.
Comedy writer Kay Cannon honed her writing chops on “30 Rock,” “New Girl” and all three “Pitch Perfect” films. Now she’s bringing her weirdo-girly-sensibility to the director’s chair, making her directorial debut on the raunchy teen sex comedy “Blockers .”
With a script by Brian and Jim Kehoe, “Blockers” is a comedy built on the premise that teens speak a different, secret language, filled with symbolic emojis and abbreviations parents just don’t understand. Ona deeper level, it dives into the anxiety that overprotective parents have about their daughters growing up too fast, actualized here as a prom night sex pact. In “Blockers,” the girls do go wild, but the parents go even wilder to try and stop them.
Two trios of performers square off — in one corner, we have the up-and-coming stars Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlonas Julie, Kayla and Sam, who have been best friends since kindergarten. In the other corner, we’ve got Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz as Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter, the parents thrown together by default when their kids befriended eachother.
“Blockers” gets off to a bit of a rocky start. The character backstories are essentially nonexistent and their relationships are confusing. The story is marked by a confluence of conveniently timed reveals — prom falls on a school day, and Julie receives her acceptance letter to UCLA that afternoon. It feels forced and doesn’t find its rhythm until the prom gets underway and the parents hop into the minivan to stop the sex pact.
Although the idea of parents hysterically trying to stop their 18-year-old daughters from “losing their innocence” seems like a downright retrograde notion, “Blockers” takes care to include the counterargument that’s a far more modern approach to sexuality and gender equality. Mitchell’s wife, Marcie (Sarayu Blue) — the only seemingly sensible adult— argues their girls should be allowed to explore their sexuality on their own terms. Those moments, though essentially shoehorned in, are crucial for the film towork.
It takes a while to rev up, but “Blockers” is often laughout-loud funny, thanks to the cast— you just wish they all had a little more to work with. The sweet oddball Mann plays the overly-attached mom with a penchant for strangely detailed stories, and WWE star Cena fully steps into his own as a comedic actor here — and steals the show. As the straight-laced superdad, he’s often the butt of the joke. He leans into this dorky persona, as the hulking jock with hands the size of hubcaps who’s just a naive and earnest teddy bear. Barinholtz rounds out the trio as a deadbeat dad trying to do right.
The breakout stars of “Blockers” are easily Viswanathan and Adlon. Watching Viswanathan inhabit the selfpossessed, supremely confident Kayla is like seeing Emma Stone for the first time in “Superbad.” We watch her become a movie star on screen, and the comic chemistry she shares with Cena, who plays her dad, always coaching her to be the best she can be is the best part of “Blockers.”
This raunchy teen sex comedy radically places teen girls in the driver’s seat of their own sexual agency, but it never sacrifices the dumb, weird or gross moments that make the genre what it is — be that for better or forworse.
“Blockers,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated R for crude and sexual content, and language throughout, drug content, teen partying, and some graphic nudity. Running time: 102minutes. ½
“Blockers” stars, from left, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena.