Commentary Recap Movie Review: Chappaquiddick

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You may be asking, what’s a commentary movie review? It’s a review where I will provide the play-by-play of the movie. I will do that in commentary style, meaning that I will comment on the first thing that pops into my head as the movie plays out scene by scene. WARNING: This review will contain all spoilers, as I will be reviewing it from movie start to finish.

First and foremost you’re probably asking what the hell is Chappaquiddick? It’s a movie about Ted Kennedy’s (yup, those Kennedy’s) involvement in the car accident that killed a young woman. The film stars, Kate Mara, Jason Clarke, Ed Helms and Bruce Dern among others. So really, what does Chappaquiddick even mean? It’s actually a real location. Chappaquiddick Island is a place in Massachusetts, that also serves as the location of the incident that the movie is centered on. Now onto the play-by-play film commentary review.

The Opening Scene:

The first thing we see in the opening scene is a picture of the Kennedy family picture portrait. It’s mostly the Kennedy’s as children. Looks a heck of a lot like the picture portrait of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. Old black and white family portrait pictures give me the shivers.

Background audio of the real-life Kennedy tragedy news announcement is playing as the camera zooms onto the pudgy kid wearing Donald Duck’s outfit, looks like that’s the young Teddy Kennedy.

Friday, July 18, 1969 comes across the title screen.

We see Jason Clarke’s character sitting and getting interviewed. The cat is out of the bag, Clarke plays Ted Kennedy. I’m loving the grainy 60’s picture filter used. Looks like footage video from the time period. Gives the movie an authentic look and feel.

Ted is seen on the phone asking for favors from his cousin Joe Gargan, who is played by Ed Helms. Initially it’s odd seeing Helms in what seems to be a serious role, and trying to do a Bostonian accent.

Footage of the Apollo 11 launching is shown with voice-overs of the event coverage in the background. An introductory tour of Chappaquiddick Island is presented. Ted has a beach home there.

Olivia Thirlby’s character is laying on the beach chatting up Kata Mara’s character Mary Jo Kopechne. They are discussing Ted, who unexpectedly shows up behind them. Sort of like Batman would. Sneaky Ted.

The first valuable lesson of the film comes in the form of a cautionary tale of not allowing Ted and Joe to attempt to sail a boat. Amateurs. All this rush, just so Ted can crash a party and toast to his brother Booby’s memory, even though Ted seems to be the toast of this party as he continues to refer to the partygoers as part of his “family”.

The Plot Is Established

The party continues outside with Ted and Mara’s character Mary Jo sitting on the roof of the car talking about why Ted didn’t run for the White House after Bobby’s death.

A cop drives by and decides to crash their car party, but Ted being the rebel that he is, peels off, only leaving skid marks behind. His rush leads to tragedy, as Ted doesn’t see a bridge ahead and drives the car off the road and into the lake. The girl doesn’t survive.

Ted gets back to the house party and calls for Joe and tells him they have a problem and that he won’t be president. No Ted, you have a problem, not them. They sure do have a major problem as a girl just seemingly died under Ted’s watch. Is Joe supposed to be the official Kennedy problem fixer?

Joe and Paul (Jim Gaffigan)arrive at the accident scene and get down to their tidy whities and jump in the lake to look for the body. Ted just looks lost and lays down on the bridge and comes to realization of what just happened. My question is, how did he not even try to rescue her when he got out of the water in the first place? Instead just casually go look for Joe? Is it a moment of shock or ineptitude on his part?

Joe and Paul, who are attorneys in their own right, advise him to report the accident. Teddy doesn’t listen and instead decides to steal a fishing boat and have his buddies row him out of there. Instead, he checks himself into a hotel and attempts to drown himself in the tub. His recollections of the accident prevent him from committing suicide.

A eery flashback of Mary Jo drowning is mixed with Ted getting ready and leaving the hotel. It sort of demonstrates the lack of fortitude from him in running away from the accident and not even trying to save the girl.

He decides to call his dad—collect. Someone needs to raise the senators salary so he can make a proper call without charging others for it. Ted spills his guts and tells dad Joseph Kennedy Sr. (Bruce Dern) what had happened and asks for help, only to hear his father gasping for air or snoring on the other end. Ted can’t even sleep as he’s haunted with visions of Mary Jo drowning.

Bad news for the senator, a kid and his father discover a floating car which leads them to contact the authorities. Meanwhile, Ted is out at breakfast with some schmucks. Leave it to Joey and Paul to barge in on the lovely breakfast and give Ted a pep talk about the troubles that he’s in now. Geez guys, let the man eat his pancakes.

Joey being the good soldier goes back to the lake house to wake everyone up and inform them of the accident, he also asks them to stick together and help out the senator. Ted, decides to go seek cover inside the police chiefs office. Is that supposed to help? He did close the blinds in the office. Surely nobody will find him now.

Treading Water

Ted decides to call Mary Jo’s mother and inform her that her daughter died. He cries as he breaks the news. Ted isn’t done calling. He calls dad again. Father utters “alibi”. Ted tries to explain that he needs to do the right thing and own up to the accident and doesn’t want to be the failure of the family anymore.

Imagine the surprise the chief had when he walks into his office and Ted is sitting at his desk. He reads his statement and recollection of the accident. Ted heads back to pay a visit to his old man, who is revealed to be in poor condition. Ted assures his father that he has the situation under control. Does he now? Apparently not, since the father gives him a note saying that he lost his complete confidence and Ted needs to do as he says.

Ted walks into the living room and there is a group on men in suits waiting for him. One looks to another and tells him he was able to handle to Cuban Missile Crisis, so he should be able to handle that. It’s clearly apparent that this is a group of top problem fixers that you’ll find.

The fixers are in uproar that Ted’s drivers license was suspended. Not the fact her was drinking or anything. What do the fixers decide? To get the ultimate fixer to help them out. These guys appear to be master PR pros.

Looks like it was smart for Ted to to make good with a local police chief, who followed the rules and read Ted’s statement to the press. Nothing like a good ol’ chief coming through. More trouble for Ted now that the media is all over the case. The media leaks the story and more questions arise.

Joe is trying to console Ted and prevent him from spiring out of control like he did after Bobby’s death. Lots of references to Bobby in the film. John Kennedy doesn’t seem to be much of a topic of conversation, but Bobby is. Show John some love.

Ted’s television interview airs and families, including the Ted’s, are watching it glued to the TV’s.

Not Much Change

Ted and Joe have their first real squabble when Joe tells him he shouldn’t be wearing a neck brace to Mary Jo’s funeral. So of course he wears it. As he begins to get heat from the press, Ted reminds his fixers to be optimistic and things can be salvaged due to the American people’s connection to the Kennedy name.

Next up, Ted gets a visit from his dad. He leans over and gets smacked right upside the head with a mean left hand. He was certainly hoodwinked, blindsided. Ted tells his father that he never wanted to be president, that everything he did in life was to make is father proud of him. He references John and Bobby as being great men in their own right. Mr. Kennedy (not the wrestler), grabs a hold of Ted’s neck and they embrace in a hug as tears stream down Ted’s face.

This is one of the most powerful moments of this movie. Finally all the avoidance and dodging is confronted and Ted stops running away from his problems. As he walks out of the room he runs into Joe and tells him that he’s going to be resigning, Joe approves his decision.

Ted pleads guilty and and will due small time in jail. He promises the press he will answer all questions in a television special.

Moments before he goes on Television he has a final run-thru conversation with Joey who tells him, “this is not about opportunity, it’s about integrity”.

Ted begins his speech to the nation. He admits to being part of the accident, blames it on his confusion, dismisses the allegation that he was drunk and leaves the audience hanging with hope they can help him make the right decision and leaves his resignation up in the air. He couldn’t do it. His ego and letting down his father got the best of him.

Real footage of reporters interviewing people on the street about whether they would vote for Ted as president. The people give mixed reviews.

  • A long shot of the Chappaquiddick bridge where the accident occurred is shown. Follow-up text reveals that Joseph Kennedy Sr. passed away four months after the Chappaquiddick accident.
  • Joe Gargan was estranged from the Kennedy family.
  • Following the TV segment the people of Massachusetts reelected Ted, who ended up as the fourth longest serving Senator in United States history.
  • In 1980 Ted was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the Democratic Presidential race. He never ran again.


This film wasn’t as dramatic or compelling as I hoped it would be. The trailers made it a lot more dramatic than the movie played out to be. The entire movie is based on Ted’s struggle with himself and facing his demons brought on by his father and the accident, which is fine when it comes to the character, but you need more in the plot and script.

While Jason Clarke does a terrific job as Kennedy, and looks every bit as much as NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. The casting was done well for this film. Clarke did very well depicting the inner struggles that Ted had, as well as the lack of personal responsibility. He was somewhat of a big baby with his tantrums and comes of as cowardly at times.

Ed Helms did a great job as Joseph Gargan. He made the Bostonian accent believable and even though he had the Helms quirks that we know him for, especially during his characters subtle blowups.

Jim Gaffigan cast as Paul might have been one of the most surprising things on paper. In the film he doesn’t have too much work to do, but he’s solid and fits nicely into the role. Had I not known he was a comedian, his acting didn’t give any indication to it.

The film ran at least 15 minutes longer than it should have. It treads water (no pun intended) during large portions. It’s a interesting suspense story on the surface, but there is little substance or mystery to it.

Does the movie paint Kennedy in a bad light? Not purposely, but it doesn’t portray him as a great guy either. Does it ry to be fair and objective? Yes, it does a solid job at objectivity.

I had higher expectations for this film then it ultimately ended up being. Just drags too slow and doesn’t provide enough fresh plot points.

  • RATING: PG-13
  • GENRE: Drama-History-Thriller
  • RUNTIME: 1 hr 46 min
  • RELEASE DATE: April 6, 2018


(good performances, interesting story but plot lacks in building much intrigue)

About Post Author

Jim Alexander

Jim Alexander hails from Chicago where he started his journalism career as a film critic and founder of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle (CIFCC). He's a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic. Jim founded Reel Talker as a platform to share his love of movies and entertainment. Jim's favorite part of being a journalist is getting to meet and interview actors, filmmakers and entertainers. Jim is a host and on-camera personality for AfterBuzz TV. Aside from his work with Reel Talker, he's the site owner of the Bachelor Universe website, where he recaps and talks about all this ABC's 'The Bachelor'. He also runs the Reel Talker Podcast that can be found on iTunes. In his free time he enjoys attending sports events and playing in recreational leagues.
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