I was recently praising Jeff Nichols’s muted drama Loving for putting a realistic, knowable face on history & not chasing the broad showiness of typical Oscar bait productions. In a lot of ways Jackie upstages Loving at its own game. An intimate portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the days immediately following her husband’s assassination, Jackie is a loose, dreamy indulgence in sights, sounds, and character quirks instead of the broad dramatic beats we usually associate with our historical fiction. The quiet grief Natalie Portman brings to the titular role is supported by the fuzzed out color saturation of Carol and an unnerving score by Mica Levi (of Under the Skin & Micachu and the Shapes) to subvert what you’d typically expect from an Oscar season costume drama profiling one of history’s most important First Ladies. Here’s where I get hypocritical, though. As much as I admire Jackie‘s search for small character beats over broad dramatization, I think it could have benefited from the campy touch of a drag queen in the lead role. Jackie is delicately beautiful & caustically funny as is, but I’m convinced that with a drag queen in the lead (I’m thinking specifically of Jinkx Monsoon) it could have been an all-time classic.
Natalie Portman is perfectly suited for the lead role as Jacqueline Kennedy. She brings the exact kind of delicate caution & building anger to the role that she used to convincingly sell a difficult to balance performance in Black Swan, except now with a quietly crazed confidence that only comes with age. I don’t mean to detract from her performance in any dismissive way. I just think this is the exact kind of material that needs a drag queen’s touch. Jackie is a conversational work, a disjointed story told through various interviews: one with a reporter, one with a priest, one with her brother-in-law, and the famous televised one where she gives a tour of the White House. As Jackie navigates these multiple lines of inquiry, especially in the ones where “the whole country would like to know what she’s going to do next,” she’s trying desperately to control her own image, keeping a cool face during her First Lady PR duties, even when speaking her mind. This kind of detached personal caricature, where a woman intentionally creates a fictionalized, cartoonishly genteel version of herself, is already a sort of a drag routine. Imagining Jinkx Monsoon in the role, reviving the heavy East Coast accent she brought to her impersonation of Grey Gardens‘s Little Edie on RuPaul’s Drag Race, adds a whole other layer to that poised style of self caricature. While Jackie drinks, smokes, cries, and verbally jabs her way through the painful days following her husband’s death, I felt as if I were watching a delicate carbon copy of a low-key drag routine, when in all honesty I would have preferred to see the real thing.
I greatly respect a lot of Jackie‘s stylistic choices, especially when they push the film into unfamiliar art house territory. Its nonlinear format (in which you hear gruesome detail about the assassination before you ever see it), combines with its hazy digital photography (designed to match America’s memory of the televised footage of the events depicted) to amount to a singular aesthetic-over-accuracy experience I found fascinating & consistently striking. I just think this portrait of an image-conscious woman defiantly refusing to hide from the public in the days following her husband’s death could have been vastly improved by drag queen artistry, particularly of the Jinkx Monsoon variety. Drag queens doing Jackie O routines date at least as far back as Divine in 1968’s Eat Your Makeup (just five years after the assassination, yikes) and I feel like Jackie is only going to fuel that fire more once some modern & future queens get a chance to absorb what Natalie Portman’s doing in the role. I honestly don’t think it’s too late to make a second cut of the film with a drag queen shoehorned in, either. Jackie makes a point to Forrest Gump its star into some archival television footage from the real life events and after the CG actors brought back to life in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we’re officially living in a post The Congress society where we can plug whatever actor we damn well please into films they never even signed up for. I nominate Jinkx Monsoon to be digitally imposed into the titular role in Jackie: The Redux. I like the film a lot as is, but there’s no way that minor alteration wouldn’t make for a much more memorable picture.