Chappaquiddick and the story of what happened to Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969, a loyal Kennedy family devotee and political campaign specialist, is kind of like the slogan for MTV's old show Diary: You think you know, but you have no idea (what it's like to be famous). Except, in this case, as per the film, we really still don't know what happened, but we do know that Ted Kennedy certainly made several missteps that did him no favours. If the thesis of Chappaquiddick is to be believed, the end of Camelot and Ted's comeuppance and later life rebrand as the "Lion of the Senate" had more to do with over-strategizing and too much time in the "war room" than anything else. This movie shows a "Kennedy war room" can be with coworkers, family, or even your own thoughts.
Revisionist history is tricky. So is revisiting history, especially when most people "think they know" but "they have no idea" that there could be more to the story. Oliver Stone has done this well with some of his political movies (JFK, Nixon, you could even say Born on the Fourth of July), but sometimes, it doesn't work (WTF was W?) because there's too much attachment to the political myth or projected value of the subject. And what better political myth is there to dismantle than the Kennedy myth?
I really don't want to bring this back to how much I loved Jackie, but here goes. A subversive biopic can and should have just as much impact as a by-the-numbers conventional story. Especially when it's directed by an outsider. The power is in the focus of the story, a clear feeling, as opposed to demonizing or eulogizing the parties involved. Like my favourite Natalie Portman says as Jackie in Jackie, "People like to believe in fairytales."
Building off of that, Chappaquiddick goes to show the audience that you can't force or construct a fairytale. Sometimes the story just makes no sense, and people will call you out. We don't know why Mary Jo (Kate Mara) was in the car with Ted after they had likely been drinking (or indulging, or not! Who knows!) at a campaign staffer party. He genuinely doesn't remember how he got out of the car. He could have owned the mistake earlier, but instead he either over-listened or under-listened to his advisors. We all know the photos and news coverage of Ted Kennedy wearing that weird, stiff neck brace, but do you know why he put it on? Who was he trying to impress? What if he never wanted to be president in the first place? Is Chappaquiddick an ode to self-sabotage and finding your way?
When Chappaquiddick sold for $20 million earlier this week, nobody really blinked. I guess part of the reason that nobody blinked was because the sale seemed so big, and like such a gamble since no press had screened the movie. But Chappaquiddick has been the biggest sale of the festival, and deservedly so. It's more airtight than a good Jay Roach script (Recount, Game Change), except this one was on the Black List, and has more distance from its subjects. There's more bite, and less explicit sympathy, which then gives you more sympathy for everybody involved. And because this script was on the Black List, you can feel a fearless, confident attitude from the cast. They weren't making this movie to sell, they honestly came to Toronto to support it and the idea that it could come out this year got Jason Clarke GENUINELY excited when we spoke to him on the red carpet. It was a delight to see. There was no spin. We opened each interview with whether they felt like "$20-million." Everybody had a tempered, yet thrilled reaction. They came to TIFF to celebrate each other's work, but all of a sudden this could actually be their ticket to more success or more opportunities?! How romantic. That's how film festivals should be.
It's not just Kate Mara as the phantom ingénue enigma Mary Jo, or Clarke's outsider take on Ted that makes this movie work. It's the whole "nothing to lose" attitude. Jim Gaffigan gets the best lines as the straightman and Ed Helms' sympathetic ear steals the movie. A $20 million buy seems like a perfect fit for this movie. I loved it. And I am so so so so so happy for Kate Mara, even though she doesn't have much to do. This cast took a chance on this script, and it paid off.
Kate's husband took a chance on another big role - in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. Jamie was at Kate's premiere of Chappaquiddick on Saturday. And Kate was at Jamie's premiere of Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. They're having a professional moment, and they're sharing it together... as newlyweds.
Attached - a screengrab of an excited Kate Mara (and Jamie) from TIFF's IG @ the Film Stars... premiere on Tuesday.