There are a lot of things to like about this film. Portman is great, and her performance toes the line nicely between the artificial and the genuine. Mica Levi takes her haunting Under the Skin score and applies something similar here. Larrain and d.p. Stephane Fontaine succeed in creating a disorienting but intimate visual atmosphere. Essentially, this is a film that fights against being your run-of-the-mill biopic, and that’s an approach I can appreciate.
Unfortunately, being “unconventional” doesn’t automatically mean “great”. The style of the film is so in your face that it’s extremely grating, and Levi’s score is overused to the point where it loses its power. I’d say the same thing about Portman*, whose performance is limited in a sense by Larrain’s incoherent directorial choices. I say this because the film’s narrative approach–haphazardly jumping around between different threads–is a jumbled mess. The filmmakers might defend it by saying that it’s supposed to be like this in order to “portray Jackie Kennedy’s mindset” or some nonsense like that, but in the end, it’s poor filmmaking. The film might work if it fully committed to one thread or the other, but it doesn’t. Each switch immediately takes you out of whatever atmosphere was being created beforehand.
It’s a shame because the script raises interesting discussions about media construction, grief, and the contrast between private and public personas. Overall, though, both the script and the camera scream “we’re not a biopic!” instead of telling a coherent story. I wanted to be drawn in by a hypnotic atmosphere and moved by a heartbreaking story. I left the film cold and slightly irritated.
GRADE: B- (I could go a bit lower, but I’ll refrain)
*Portman is great, as I said, but this performance isn’t even the best female lead performance of the year. That title belongs to Isabelle Huppert. Also, I honestly might put Hailee Steinfeld above Portman.