Chappaquiddick ***

The story of American royalty doing anything it can to keep its power, even after killing someone. Good stuff here. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

Edward “Ted” Kennedy was the youngest son of business tycoon Joseph Kennedy, a man who valued money, power, and the prestige of the Kennedy name above all else. Ted no doubt felt immense pressure to follow in the footsteps of his highly successful (and tragically assassinated) older brothers John and Bobby, and to his credit, Ted was a United States senator for more than 47 years before he died in 2009.

And yet in his father’s eyes, Ted was a disappointment. “Chappaquiddick” tells the story – and tells it well – of how it all went wrong for Ted.

In July 1969, Ted got into a car accident in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, and lost two things: The life of his companion in the car, Mary Jo Kopechne, and his chance to become president of the United States. What happened, how it went down, and who was responsible for Mary Jo’s death forms the core of "Chappaquiddick," a solid drama that wisely doesn’t take sides. Instead, director John Curran’s film presents the events that led to Mary Jo’s death in a way that feels straightforward given all we could possibly know without being there, which is as much as we could ask.

July 1969 is roughly a year after Bobby’s assassination, and Ted (Jason Clarke) misses his brother dearly. Already a senator, Ted is letting the pressure of a possible presidential run in ’72 get to him. He’s drinking, and it’s implied he’s womanizing as well. As the story begins Ted invites a bunch of his buddies, including his cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and former U.S. attorney Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan), to Chappaquiddick for the weekend. He also invites “Boiler Room” girls, women who worked on Bobby’s ’68 presidential campaign who just happen to be single. The cover story is that they’re there for a sailing competition, but really it’s just an excuse for debauchery.

Fair enough as long as all are willing participants, and that appears to be the case. Late one night Ted and Mary Jo (Kate Mara) go for a drive. After too many drinks Ted speeds down a dark dirt road, loses control of the car and goes over the side of a small bridge, flipping the car in the process. Ted escapes, Mary Jo does not; he insists he went back to try to get her out multiple times. We can only take his word for it.

With the help of Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan’s thoroughly researched script, Curran assembles the clearest and most likely version of events based on what we know as facts. Obviously only two people really know what happened that night, and they’re both dead.


What’s fascinating is not just the circumstances surrounding the events, but also the extent to which Ted uses the power of the Kennedy name, his status as a senator, and his father’s team of experts to create, and subsequently manipulate, the narrative to suit his benefit. To his credit, Clarke plays Ted as a lost soul in need of guidance, and in doing so elicits sympathy at a time in which what he’s doing (distorting the truth, and perhaps his responsibility for, an innocent woman’s death) is really quite evil.

There’s a fascination with the Kennedy family that pop culture can’t seem to escape. They’ve been called the closest thing to royalty the United States has ever had. The tragedy that has befallen the family is equal to, arguably, the scandal and melodrama that has also impacted its legacy. This wasn’t just a rich and powerful family – it’s also three generations of high profile headlines for the media. “Chappaquiddick” tells only one such tale, but here’s hoping it will lead to more of the same.

Did you know?
Ted’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968.

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