Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Chappaquiddick Movie Poster Image
Fascinating fact-based drama about power and perception.
  • PG-13
  • 2018
  • 101 minutes

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No clear messages but plenty to talk about: Was this an accident? What would have been the best way to handle it? Was the truth told? Were there consequences?

Positive Role Models & Representations

Doesn't really go into Ted Kennedy's achievements during his long service in the Senate, but that record alone makes him at least something of a role model. In the movie, he has an accident and makes a few mistakes; these lead to someone's death. His subsequent actions are partly to clear things up and partly to save his career. It's a mix of good intentions and misguided ones, but it leads to interesting questions about privilege and power, actions and consequences.


A car goes off a bridge. A woman is shown trapped inside it, screaming and scared. She eventually dies. A corpse covered by a sheet is shown. Brief struggling/fighting between two men. Talk of manslaughter. Mentions of the assassinations of John F. and Bobby Kennedy.


Not an issue. A party filled with older men and younger women is subtly suggestive just by its existence, but nothing eyebrow-raising is ever shown or mentioned.


Two uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "son of a bitch," "ass," "hell," "damn," "putz," "oh my God," and "Christ" (as exclamations).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Background smoking. Social drinking at party.

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.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written bytimdrakebestrobin June 25, 2018
Chappaquiddick is directed by John Curran, and stars Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, and Jim Gaffigan

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?

Movie details

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