Synposis: Depicting Ted Kennedy's involvement in the fatal 1969 car accident that claims the life of a young campaign strategist, Mary Jo Kopechne.
This movie would have been much more effective if it wasn’t titled Chappaquiddick. That is because it’s not a movie about what happened on some island many years ago. It’s not a movie about a murder, or a cover up, or even Ted Kennedy for that matter. It’s a movie about the cult of personality and the great lengths people will go in order to sanctify a human being simply because he’s the star center fielder for their team.
The movie starts off at a period in Ted Kennedy’s life when he’s expected to pick up the reins left behind by his two elder brothers. Unfortunately, the first act does little to convince the audience that they’re watching anything more than a puff piece. Ted is presented as a conflicted character at a crossroads, trying to be genuine but not quite sure the kind of person he wants to be. It’s hard to buy any of the dialogue because it just seems too scripted by someone who wants to believe in the Kennedy myth. Ted waxing poetic about not wanting to be in politics, pressure from the family, etc. - it all feels pulled directly from the trials and tribulations of being a fortunate son handbook. The sentimentality of The King’s Speech doesn’t quite work in this context.
A majority of the early part of the film takes place on the evening of the infamous beach house party. A party where everyone is drinking but no one seems intoxicated. They all speak coherently and discuss important topics. Having been to actual parties where booze flows freely, it’s tough to believe the one shown on screen, especially since the consequence was a fatal car accident. It is Ted’s actions following the accident that are the focus of the remainder of the movie. What’s interesting is not whether Ted Kennedy chose the righteous path or succumbed to the dark side. There was no good side vs. bad side. There was only an action, a reaction and the public’s reaction. To those who loved The Lion of the Senate, you need to really think about whom it is you’re propping up on a pedestal. To those who saw Kennedy as a corrupt murderer, well, they have to ask themselves what kind of people are the ones they DO support.
Anyone who recognizes the name Chappaquiddick already knows what there is to know about the incident that took place on July 18th, 1969 and has long cemented their opinion of Ted Kennedy, or the Kennedy clan as a whole for that matter. To anyone who would find the name foreign, well, they probably aren’t running to the theaters to watch the blasphemy of one of their idols anyway. Former president Barrack Obama eulogized Kennedy as “the greatest legislator of our time.” He described the lifelong politician as a man who learned from his mistakes. Sure he had his faults, but at least he learned from his mistakes. A dramatized version of Kennedy in the movie too explains that great men are flawed and lists a series of biblical figures, pointing out their “mistakes.” This is how the movie version of Kennedy saw himself, and what the movie succeeded at was showing the audience exactly how the public saw him as well – a messianic figure. That is why he could be elected, and re-elected, and re-elected again until he was one of the longest serving senators in this country’s history. What’s a murder and cover up for a messiah? If people can forgive Peter for denying Jesus, then surely they’ll clear the path for a Kennedy.
This movie is about us, the audience, and the power we can and choose to give. There was never a question of how Kennedy would be judged, only if he could create enough of a story for the public to justify their continued love affair with him. It almost felt that Ted wanted that story just as badly as the public, because they both needed it. They needed that story to keep the bigger story, the one of a real-life savior, to progress forward. If this is a flawed theory, then why did it take so long for this story to be told? What was it, almost ten years after Ted died, while still holding office?