‘Chappaquiddick’ Trailer: Ticking Every Box in the Biopic Genre

The incident that derailed Ted Kennedy’s life and career is brought to life on the big screen.
By  · Published on December 21st, 2017

The incident that derailed Ted Kennedy’s life and career is brought to life on the big screen.

One of Hollywood’s more under-the-radar leading men, Jason Clarke, stars as US Senator Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick, a biopic hoping to crack open the scandal that irreparably changed Kennedy’s life. Watch the first trailer below.

Chappaquiddick will detail the story behind why it took Kennedy ten hours to report the now infamous car accident that killed 28-year-old campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne (played by Kate Mara). Instead of reaching out to the authorities to report the accident, Kennedy returned to his hotel and instead contacted family members. Kennedy’s cousin, Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and his father — an imposing Bruce Dern as Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. — are brought in to help him sort the mess out.

Directed by John Curran (Tracks, Stone), the trailer for Chappaquiddick leads us down both the traditional biopic and the thriller route. Chappaquiddick looks like it will recount the events of the accident as well as the inherent secrecy of the entire ordeal, accounting for the image and legacy of the Kennedy family as a whole. The trailer makes the film seem a little like a cat and mouse chase up until the point where Kennedy delivers his televised speech. The cultural footprint of this case resulted in a ripple effect in politics. Although Kennedy was re-elected as Senator after the Chappaquiddick incident, he never did successfully run for President.

With movies like Chappaquiddick — the ones that detail such well-known historical events — the real draws are usually the cast or some kind of internal look at a public figure’s potential inner identity. The conflict seems to be present in the trailer for Chappaquiddick. This is a story of a good guy who had a lapse in judgment, although lines such as, “This family perseveres, we have a true compass and we follow it!” come across a little forced given the impossible context of the incident. It just cuts the dramatic factor. Does the film want to be feel-good or morally ambiguous?

The swelling score and taut editing seemingly ensure that Chappaquiddick moves past the methodical approach of the majority of biopics. Critical reception has been rather lukewarm since the film’s premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (but then again, there are only fourteen reviews in the aggregate so far). The film will receive a wide domestic release April 6, 2018.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)