‘Chap­paquid­dick’ holds Kennedy ac­count­able for tragic in­ci­dent

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“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.

“Block­ers”

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

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“Block­ers” stars, from left, Les­lie Mann, Ike Bar­in­holtz and John Cena.

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