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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chappaquiddick is a drama based on a real-life event that happened in July 1969, when Senator Ted Kennedy's car went over a bridge, killing a young woman trapped inside. The movie explores the subsequent struggle to make it look like the right thing has been done, hopefully saving Kennedy's career and keeping him out of jail. It's more interesting than emotional, but teens who are interested in history might appreciate it. The drowning is depicted in a vivid way that's still not too intense or particularly gory. Two men fight, and there's talk of the Kennedy assassinations. Language includes uses of "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and "hell." There's some period-accurate background smoking. A party with politicians and young women is subtly suggestive, but nothing iffy is mentioned or shown other than some drinking at the party. Jason Clarke stars as Kennedy.
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What's the story?
In CHAPPAQUIDDICK, it's July 1969, and Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) -- the last surviving son of Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern) -- is determined to become president someday. But one fateful night, after a party on Chappaquiddick Island, Ted leaves with Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), who worked on Ted's brother Bobby's campaign. His car accidentally runs off the Dike Bridge, and Mary Jo is killed. Distraught, Ted calls on his cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and attorney Paul F. Markham (Jim Gaffigan), who rush to the bridge but can do nothing. In the morning, Ted drafts a statement for the police, claiming that he was disoriented and suffering from a concussion. Before long, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown) leaps in, assembling a team of strategists to help save Ted's career. But have too many mistakes been made? Can Ted ever be forgiven?
Is it any good?
Introducing new generations to an infamous historical incident, this drama takes a detailed, matter-of-fact approach; while the result isn't exactly stirring, it's at least consistently interesting. Adding another facet to an already rich selection of Kennedy-related movies (JFK, Thirteen Hours, Bobby, Parkland, Jackie, LBJ, etc.), Chappaquiddick gets points for avoiding preaching and hysterics, as well as anything lurid or racy. A lesser movie could have easily gone down that road, given that the mere word "Chappaquiddick" was often used as an angry political rallying cry against Kennedy during his lifetime.
Underrated director John Curran (The Painted Veil, Stone, Tracks) does a fine job building tension and conveying subtle changes of character in largely static, interior shots. Screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan effectively weave facts with fiction. The filmmakers play it like chess moves, showing the step-by-step manipulation of public perception, as well as strategic uses of political power. The movie also gets points for the canny casting of Clarke, an Australian-born actor who manages to both look and sound like a young Ted Kennedy. The rest of the cast is just as good, with a key performance by a sinister Dern, disabled by a stroke but still glaring with ferocious, disapproving eyes. It's just too bad the film can't get past a certain sense of reserve.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Chappaquiddick's violent/upsetting scenes. How did the drowning sequence make you feel? Was it shocking? Emotionally involving? Why or why not?
Did Ted Kennedy eventually do the right thing? Why or why not? Can you think of better ways to handle the incident?
How does the movie address the concepts of privilege and power, actions and consequences? Why are consequences so important?
How was the perception of smoking different in 1969?
- In theaters: April 6, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: July 10, 2018
- Cast: Kate Mara, Jason Clarke, Ed Helms
- Director: John Curran
- Studio: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material, disturbing images, some strong language, and historical smoking
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