If you were hoping this movie would shed some light on what REALLY happened the night Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge with Mary Jo Kopechne in his car on the tiny island of Chappaquiddick in Martha’s Vineyard on July 18, 1969, I’ve got some bad news. Not only does this movie NOT reveal anything that even SMELLS like the truth, it doesn’t even know what kind of movie it’s supposed to be.
Is it a mystery? A tragedy? A buddy comedy? At different points in the movie, all THREE are in play! My neck is still sore 12 hours later from SHAKING MY DAMN HEAD at this flick.
Aussie Actor Jason Clarke, who you may remember from his not-so-terrible Boston accent in the Showtime Irish Mob series Brotherhood, does a fantastic job convincing you in his look and mannerisms that he’s the young Teddy Kennedy; the last brother standing. Many of us in New England (of a certain age) grew up watching Ted on television or in the papers almost daily. The problem isn’t with Clarke’s acting, but what the writers came up with as Teddy, the character in this film.
In Chappaquiddick, the young senator bounces back and forth from appearing as a misunderstood tragic figure to a complete buffoon. He’s the last surviving son in America’s only royal family, living in the shadow of JFK and Bobby. That part we get. It’s the flip-flopping between a man headed to the police full of remorse to confess his part in an accident, to the guy wearing a fake neck brace to Mary Jo’s funeral to garner sympathy that causes the rest of us REAL whiplash. (Hey, can I borrow that neck brace?) OUCH!
While this movie was riddled with lowlights, I must admit, there were a few highlights. Okay, there were TWO. Ed Helms performance as Ted’s cousin/honorary brother Joe Gargan is surprisingly good. It’s a huge departure from his roles in The Office, or The Hangover and is sure to get him more dramatic roles if he wants them. The second is a glimmer of hope that the movie was “about to get good” when Teddy makes his first phone call after Mary Jo’s death, calling (NOT THE POLICE) his father, Joe Sr, who is wheelchair-bound after a stroke but still very much in charge of the Kennedy family. He chillingly responds with one word to his son’s confession: “ALIBI”.
The Kennedy patriarch is played by Academy Award-nominated veteran actor Bruce Dern. I do hope Dern got a nice hefty paycheck for this role because there’s no way it was rewarding for him. Total waste of a talented actor in a crappy role. Again, the writers may have wanted to show us the ‘never-before-told’ true story of WHAT REALLY HAPPENED, but it’s painfully clear halfway through the film, anyone that grew up in New England knows more from third-hand gossip passed down from their parents and grandparents than the filmmakers.
I mean, come ON people. No mention whatsoever of the infamous purse that was in the car while underwater, and magically disappeared once it was pulled out? Even my 13-year-old daughter heard that one from her Papa!
There are many juicy conspiracy theories about what happened that night in Chappaquiddick, including the one that theorized Ted having an affair with a famous politician’s wife, and that it was the two of them skirting off for a rendezvous away from the party that drove off the bridge, and subsequently swam to safety, never knowing that Mary Jo had climbed in the back of the car to sleep off her over-partying that night. That it was the mystery politician’s wife’s purse in the car, and that’s why there was a cover-up.
I know, that sounds bonkers, but it would have played much better than “well, Teddy wanted to do the right thing, but his father and his “boys” (a team of ‘cleaners’ or what we might call ‘crisis consultants’ today) advised him differently.
This movie is a HOT MESS. Even a cameo from our beloved local funny guy Tony V. couldn’t save me from my misery. Do yourself a favor, and SKIP THIS FLICK.