reality vs. reelz: reflections on “the kennedys,” an “8-part epic movie event,” one year out

yeah, i’m 365 days late, but it takes time to collect one’s thoughts re: epic 8-part movie events. i’m collected now. let’s do this.

in case you’re unsure how to interpret the phrase “8-part movie event,” allow me. the kennedys is a really long oliver stone movie cut up into 8 pieces and put on tv. by which i mean that what it’s lacking in the acting and dialogue it more than makes up for in the accents and the paternal/fraternal/maternal crazy.oh, and you will see greg “jfk” kinnear make this face A LOT:

(don’t get me wrong. i’m not totally opposed to this face and i love me some greg “jfk” kinnear. his performance- along with that of barry “rfk” pepper- is the highlight of this “8-part movie event.” i’m just warning you: there’s a lot of squinting.

is the squinting meant to convey political confusion? or intellectual gravitas?

is the sunlight in vancouver of a greater intensity than in the US?

i wonder (a) was jfk this squinty? or (b) is that just the default setting of greg kinnear’s face?

it is hard to look away…)

like any good made-for-television bio-pic movie event, the kennedys excels at recreating, in detail, iconic scenes from the subjects lives while still totally screwing with the historical accuracy.

let’s start small. this scene.

is obviously a recreation of this.

but that’s a level of accuracy one probably shouldn’t demand from one’s 8-hour movie events.

here’s a slightly more significant twisting of the truth: in the kennedys there’s the obligatory mention of “dr. feelgood,” a “doctor” whose involvement in the kennedy administration involved pumping everyone full of “vitamins,” ie. meth.

while jfk’s usage is acknowledged here, it’s passed off as medicinal meth usage and it’s jackie who- trying to be a wonderwoman wife/mother/first lady- becomes a raging junkie, bouncing from fittings and interviews with a joie de vivre that could only be drug induced.

curing a drug addiction in a way that only a made-for-tv movie could, greg “jfk” kinnear quietly intervenes and all is well.

oh hey, look, it’s marilyn. the gang’s all here!

marilyn is, how shall we say… not good. she is actually, let’s be honest, quite bad.

for comparison’s sake, this is the real marilyn monroe:

this is the marilyn monroe at madame tussauds:

and this is the marilyn monroe in the kennedys:


one thing for which i want to give the kennedys mad props: it’s depiction of the integration of ole miss. the dude playing james meredith is spot on heroic. the dude playing governor barnett is a total dick, as he should be. and barry “rfk” pepper rises to the occasion and displays some major acting chops.

speaking of barry “rfk” pepper: LOVE. in spite of the variety of prosthetics needlessly applied to his face. his rfk accent is perfect. his affectation of rumpled worry is endearing. his seemingly genuine concern that greg “jfk” kinnear’s love affairs are going to ruin his life is touching.

as it turns out, the connection between greg “jfk” kinnear and barry “rfk” pepper is the glue that holds the first 7 hours of this 8-hour movie event together. because, the death of jfk- a horror that, in movies of this kind, is always reenacted with a mawkishness more suited to an 8th grade play- totally takes the wind out of the kennedys sails.

(the dude behind jackie is appropriately unenthused about the remaining hour.)

to give you a sense of the dreadfulness of hour 8, i will say this: before hour 8, it had never once occurred to me that barry “rfk” pepper might be canadian. however, in hour 8- the hour that is entirely devoted to rfk and in which, consequently, we might expect barry “rfk” pepper to shine- barry “rfk” pepper totally implodes, in as much as reverting to a raging canadian accent in the 8th hour of playing a man from massachusettes can be called implosion.

but let’s back up. to hour 6 and the matter of mary meyer, which is- ultimately- my problem with the kennedys overall.

jfk had an affair with mary meyer. we’re talking real life here. this really probably actually happened and jackie really probably actually knew and she was not pleased.

i mean, just looking at this photo of mary meyer with her cigarette and big earrings at jfk’s 46th birthday, you know this is a dangerous woman.

but seriously. mary meyer was in their social circle. she attended white house parties. she wasn’t just some secretary or random screw. jfk’s involvement with her not only violated the unspoken arrangement within their marriage, it also violated the social code. awkward.

the kennedys brings up mary meyer- which is commendable as none of the other movie events do-but then it proceeds to muck up every available historical detail.

jfk and mary meyer have the sex. upon discovering the affair, jackie’s pissed and flees the white house. thus, she’s away riding horses in the countryside for the entirety of the cuban missile crisis. it isn’t until ethel drops by and says, “hey, kid, something big is going down in DC,” that she hops back home and discovers the world was on the brink of nuclear war for the last thirteen days.

the way this is presented in the kennedys, as katie “jackie” holmes lays it out to caroline, is that greg “jfk” kinnear saved the world, thus the rift between jackie and jfk is magically healed.

what the what?

when i was 13, in response to my complaint that the actors in princess in love looked nothing like charles and diana, my mother informed me that made-for-tv movies are not meant to recreate the events they depict but are simply “inspired” by them. which is unfortunate, because- though they often include a disclaimer attesting to this at the outset- these “inspired” by movies are taken as truth.

this is where i think caroline kennedy was justified in wanting the kennedys off the history channel. because the kennedys isn’t history.

jackie wasn’t riding in the countryside during the cuban missile crisis. she was at the white house. hey lookit, here’s a photo of jackie with john jr. watching an event at the white house on october 15th, during the cuban missile crisis.

jfk offered to let her and the kids go to the bunker that was set aside for governmental higher-ups and their families, but she refused. in the schlessinger interviews, she says she told jfk: “if anything happens, we’re all going to stay right here with you. i just want to be with you, and i want to die with you, and the children do, too — than live without you.”

(“the kennedys”;  “the kennedys”; “the kennedys”; “the kennedys”;

“the kennedys”;  mark shaw; “the kennedys”; “the kennedys”;  cecil stoughton;

“the kennedys”; “the kennedys”; “the kennedys”; “the kennedys”;

Robert Knudsen/JFK Library; JFK Library)

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