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 Ivy-Style.com, 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