Casual Indifference: A Review Of Chappaquiddick

Usually the themes of manslaughter, deception, intrigue, and privilege are enough to satisfy even the basest Shakespearian desires of most moviegoers. By wrapping this all in the historical context of the most storied political dynasty of the 20th century, with a sidebar about humankind’s first steps on another planet, you’ve got a recipe for a drama sure to satisfy everyone.

And what better ingredients for such a recipe than the events of July 18, 1969, where Senator Edward M. Kennedy was the responsible driver in a car accident that killed 28-year-old campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne? This story might have been a dream of Billy Shakespeare himself if it weren’t real, but director John Curran has taken on that duty. Curran’s new film Chappaquiddick recounts the eponymous incident with much of the detail that can be verified, while also happening to be a perfect showcase for East Coast Ivy style.

Of course, if you’re reading, you might see Chappaquiddick strictly to check out its sartorial bonafides. Pleasantly, this movie’s wardrobe chops are superb. From the very few light-hearted scenes to the many somber moments, mid-century looks are depicted much the way they are idealized by their modern devotees.

Ironically, Edward M. Kennedy, deftly portrayed by Jason Clarke, dresses with a casual indifference to his dark role in the storied events. His clothing choices are nearly always relaxed, often consisting of chinos worn with polos, Shetland crewneck sweaters, and canvas sneakers. In some scenes, Teddy sports a bright seersucker suit split into separates with the trousers cinched by a khaki surcingle belt. And when it comes time to act contrite, Kennedy carries off his infamous neck brace with all the sincerity you’d expect of a man plotting the next election cycle.

Teddy, though, isn’t the only example of Northeastern chic. The beautiful Kate Mara portrays Ms. Kopechne with period-appropriate staples including cardigans, headbands, and a few sexy, sleeveless tops that do just enough to allude to lingering questions about an improper relationship with the senator. Of course, there are also plenty of men in suits. Kennedy clan advisors who might be described as simultaneously stern and slightly slippery are seen in authentically grey sack cuts accessorized by acetate glasses, skinny ties, buttondown collars, and heavy wingtips.

The aesthetic of this entire film is so expertly curated that it alone could hold viewers’ attention. That nothing in the film is depicted as perfect — certainly not the Kennedy camp’s response to the incident — only adds to its authenticity. The exclusive Martha’s Vineyard setting is illustrated through weather-worn New England architecture, parochial accents that are charming yet difficult to understand, and a maddeningly complicit local patriarchy. It’s done in a manner that will please all — even those who still doubt the official explanation of the night’s events. — ANDY OWEN

38 Comments on "Casual Indifference: A Review Of Chappaquiddick"

  1. Excellent writing, Mr. Owen. Thanks for stepping forward with this!

  2. Mitchell S. | April 19, 2018 at 11:46 am |

    Thumbs down. As a native Bostonian, I can tell you the accents are phony as a three-dollar bill.

  3. Roger Miles | April 19, 2018 at 12:16 pm |

    Haven’t seen the film, Andy, but you are a very fine writer, and have inspired me to give it a look. Well done!

  4. Totally off-topic, but I need some advice from our community: I just took a pair of truly wild GTH pants into my tailor’s, and asked for cuffs (which I wear on all my khakis, flannels, suit trousers, etc.), and the Korean lady who runs the place told me that for casual pants she thinks “no cuffs”. Un-cuffed pants (of any kind), always look unfinished to me.


    Thanks in advance.

  5. CanadianTrad | April 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm |

    Cuff ‘me Paul!

    Also, great review, Andy. I’ll have to see this one.

  6. Saw the film the other night. It certainly captured the beauty of the Vineyard and the Cape, and the film moved along at a brisk pace. Ed Helms did a good job as well. 3/4 stars, would recommend, especially for readers of this site.

  7. Mitchell S. | April 19, 2018 at 12:33 pm |

    @Paul: GTH pants look best without cuffs. If you do get cuffs, chances are the patterns will not align properly, then you will have *real* go-to-hell pants.

  8. MacMcConnell | April 19, 2018 at 1:32 pm |

    Paul, “Un-cuffed pants (of any kind), always look unfinished to me.”

    Who you going to believe your gut or some Korean lady? Cuff em!

  9. Great review, I had forgotten about this film but now I will make it a point to go see it. In fact, I’ll be watching it in Bronxville, right down the road from the church Teddy was married in and where he was an alter boy as a child.

    Mitchell, I think you mean ‘dollah.’

  10. Vern Trotter | April 19, 2018 at 1:42 pm |

    Good lord, most all trousers should have cuffs; the exceptions being your tuxedo or you are in uniform.

    The movie was very good being the first time many cover ups were told on film or tv. Most were divulged in the excellent book, “Senatorial Privilege, The Chappaquiddick Cover Up,” by Leo Damore of the Cape Cod Times. The original publisher backed out of the deal after Kennedy pressure. Not enough space here to list all, but that Mary Joe left her purse and keys at the party indicating she planned to return and that Kennedy’s drivers license was expired. One was made up over the weekend to give to the judge. Damore later blew his brains out after losing his job and being black balled by the Kennedy machine. The actors were not realisticly well dressed in Ivy Style but this crowd was not well dressed to begin with.

  11. I say cuffs as well. The only pants I would not cuff are tartan trews as they can also be worn with a dinner jacket that way.

  12. Orange Fiji | April 19, 2018 at 2:14 pm |

    @Paul: Definitely cuffs. If the Korean lady will not do your bidding, take your GTH’s somewhere else.
    I saw the movie the weekend it came out. From what I heard, most of it was filmed north of Boston & not on the Cape/MV.

  13. Paul.
    Casual pants:
    Plain front…no cuff
    Pleated front…cuffed
    Dress pants, suits…cuffed
    Tux…no cuff

  14. There are plenty of 3-button coats in this movie, but I noticed that all of them have the top one buttoned. It seems obvious that some young wardrobe person must have misinformed everyone of the actors on this point.

  15. Thanks all!

  16. Charlottesville | April 19, 2018 at 2:36 pm |

    Paul — I agree with you 100%. Cuffs on everything other than jeans and formal trousers. For me that includes khakis, Nantucket reds, patchwork madras, seersucker, and whatever other casual pants you may care to name. I have a pair or two of chinos without cuffs, and always regret getting them with plain hems. Practical for a sandy beach, I suppose, but otherwise, no.

  17. Trevor Jones | April 19, 2018 at 3:34 pm |

    Clarke was the lead in a show called Brotherhood on Shotime a few years ago and for that show adopted a Rhode Island accent (yes, different from the Boston accent). Have yet to see this but what I can tell from the trailer he seemed to just use that RI accent rather than do a Boston Brahmin accent. Also, many of the beach/outdoor scenes are filmed in my backyard of Beverly Farms not the Cape or MV.

  18. Excellent article – look forward to seeing the film.

  19. Thanks Charlottesville (and again to everyone who chimed in).

    The best argument offered in favor of no cuffs, in particular for GTH pants, was made by Mitchell S.: that some patterns are such that if the leg and the cuff weren’t lined up just-so, the effect would be really jarring. For these particular pants, however, I don’t think it will matter. (although I will note that, in the pic, the hem on the pair the model is wearing is uncuffed):

  20. Mitchell S. | April 19, 2018 at 5:33 pm |

    @Paul: The Korean lady was right, stick to uncuffed GTH pants.

    Keep in mind that your tailor will turn up the bottom of the trouser such that any pattern that is right-side up on the pant leg will appear upside down on the cuff. This will look very confusing to someone trying to make sense of the hunt scene on the pants.

  21. Thanks for this assignment. I really enjoyed this movie, and I think that any of the regular readers here would, too. It’s. It’s not often that you get to see surcingle belts on the big screen after all.

  22. john carlos | April 19, 2018 at 10:48 pm |

    Andy: surcingle belt indeed. My introduction to trad in 1965. Still going strong with O’Connell”s, Ben Silver, Brooks.

  23. john carlos | April 19, 2018 at 10:57 pm |

    Enjoyed your post. Well written although I’m no judge. I just know good prose when I read it.

  24. @Trevor Jones – Why would a Kennedy have a Boston Brahmin accent? They are not Brahmins. They were/are Lace Curtain Irish.

    “Here’s to dear old Boston,
    The home of the bean and the cod,
    Where Lowells speak only to Cabots,
    And Cabots speak only to God.”

  25. A couple of Brahmins:

    With the exception of the clipped vowels, I’m not sure there’s much of a relationship (in terms of elocution) to the better known Boston accents. More Transatlantic than “Southie.”

  26. Trevor Jones | April 20, 2018 at 8:04 am |

    @Jim, maybe they were trying to fit in, I don’t know. But that is the accent they had.

  27. Mitchell S. | April 20, 2018 at 9:23 am |

    BostonSpeak is easy:

    1. Just drop your r’s: “Pahk the cah in Havad yad”
    2. Add the r to words ending in a: Florida becomes “Florider”
    3. Wicked pissah!

  28. Vern Trotter | April 20, 2018 at 1:12 pm |

    Years ago, “Lace curtain Irish,” were called “Two toilet Irish,” by Irish Americans in South Boston, Dorchester and elsewhere referring to those in West Roxbury and the South Shore.

  29. Michael Skrzypiec | April 20, 2018 at 2:25 pm |

    If you have the time, google Boston Accent Seth Myers and enjoy !

  30. Terry O'Reilly | April 20, 2018 at 3:00 pm |

    The Kennedy accent always reminded me of Downeast Maine accent mixed with a Cape/Nantucket accent. Certainly not the accent I hear from Townies or my old-school “nay-bizz”.

  31. Vern Trotter | April 21, 2018 at 1:55 am |

    Vaughn Meader’s recording,The First Family, his imitation of JFK, was a real hoot! It sold 6.5 million in six weeks. He was the best of all the imitators of future presidents that followed. He crashed and was a complete bust after the assassination. Died a pauper, I believe.

  32. Poison Ivy Leaguer | April 21, 2018 at 9:07 am |

    On the night of 11/22/63, Lenny Bruce, in the show must go on tradition, took the stage at a night club. His opening line was, “Man, poor Vaughn Meader.”

  33. There’s no doubt Teddy was the Liberal Lion of the Senate, but it’s not difficult to discern the source of his inspiration. “…great unfinished business…”

    Whatever the vices and excesses, the Kennedy family’s sense of justice (and compassion) was/is positively Jesuit in character and scope. This is muscular, tough-minded, read-for-combat liberalism. When presented with Kennedyesque backbone, it doesn’t fail.

  34. To put it as diplomatically as I can, I feel “you might see Chappaquiddick strictly to check out its sartorial bonafides” was not in the best of taste with a film such as this.

  35. I just saw the film last night, in a little theater in Cambridge, Mass. While it depicted a tragedy and the monstrous behavior of its perpetrator, it perfectly captured the hazy, dreamlike beauty of summer towns in New England. Creaky old beds, peeling white paint, sun-filled rooms with open windows. It was a strange feeling to admire the atmosphere and the clothing in such an unpleasant film, but that world was depicted so well that it was hard not too.

  36. Cuff Shooter | August 29, 2018 at 3:50 am |

    I missed out on the chance to see it in theaters but was able to catch “Chappaquiddick” in the back of the headrest of the seat in front of me on a recent flight. I enjoyed it for the film itself, for its willingness to examine its subject matter, for the clothing, and for Olivia Thirlby.

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