Susan Granger’s review of “Chappaquiddick” (Entertainment Studios)
First used in 1954, the term “affluenza” refers to an inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege. That, plus the corrosive arrogance of being a Kennedy in Massachusetts, explains why Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s hopes of ever becoming President of the United States sank on the night of July 18, 1969.
Since most moviegoers under age of 40 are probably unfamiliar with the sordid story, on that night – just as Apollo 11 was heading towards the moon – Ted Kennedy recklessly drove his Oldsmobile off a small, wooden bridge on Chappaquiddick. He managed to escape but left helpless, 28 year-old Mary Jo Kopechne to slowly suffocate/drown in the submerged car.
Basing their pulpy, procedural melodrama strictly on testimony during the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court inquest, first-time screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan establish the time, place and characters but never ignite the emotionality of the situation – and John Curran’s methodical, heavy-handed direction details Kennedy’s irresponsible, incredibly selfish passivity during and after the calamity.
Questions like – How much had Kennedy been drinking that night? Was he having an affair with Mary Jo? And why did he wait 8-10 hours before reporting the accident? – are never addressed, although Kennedy and his cousin Joe Gargan, known as his “fixer,” admitted that without Bobby Kennedy’s young, unmarried “boiler room” girls, there would have been no weekend beach party on Martha’s Vineyard.
The physical resemblance between actor Jason Clarke and Kennedy is striking, while Kate Mara is convincing as demure Mary Jo, as is Ed Helms as Gargan. And Bruce Dern is ferocious as the stroke-stricken, yet still-cunning patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, whose only advice to his youngest son is one word: “Alibi.”
Perhaps speechwriter Ted Sorenson (Taylor Nichols) puts it best, noting, “History has the final word on these things.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Chappaquiddick” is an infuriating 5, revealing how ‘justice’ is very different for the rich and powerful.