Jackie ★★

[4]

Jackie represents a strange case of cinematic incompetence being mistaken for "the unconventional," which tells us what I think we already know: the Oscar prognosticator set needs to get out more.

Propped up by a startlingly inert frame story, in which an interviewer (Billy Crudup) becomes the official mouthpiece for Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) in the aftermath of her husband's death, this film finds Pablo Larraín moving to Hollywood and abandoning both the jet-black humor of Tony Manero and the sociopolitical acuity of No, in favor of...what exactly? A conception of the cinema as wax museum, cobbled together out of sets and costumes that have long ago been mothballed since their use in some other prim 60s period piece?

A Nicolas Winding Refn tableau that fancies itself a painterly Derek Jarman meditation on memory, Jackie could have been an interrogation of the mythmaking process, the way that Jackie meticulously stage-managed JFK's legacy at a moment when various others -- notably Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) -- were fighting to do the same. But from the recreation of Jackie's TV White House tour to the needle-drop of "Camelot" not once but twice, Jackie is entirely too on-the-nose to let these media machinations feel like anything other than a pretext, a satin-covered hanger for Jackie's immaculate suits.

In other words, for a film like this to really work, it needed to be a fantasia or a fever dream, contrasting with the First Lady's buttoned-down demeanor rather than exemplifying it. And as for Portman's much-discussed performance, it's too breathy by half and always telegraphing passive-aggression. Even Philip Glass would wonder, "hey, have you got anything aside from that one note?"

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