Portman perfect as Jackie
The new film “Jackie” stars Natalie Portman, 35, as Jackie Kennedy. It centers on the most dramatic period of Jackie’s life — the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy, and the time just before and after. The national media reviews have been positive, and it’s almost a sure bet Portman will be nominated for an Oscar. If you watch any trailer, you can hear that Portman mastered Jackie’s distinctive voice — a mixture of a New York accent, finishing school diction and a breathiness that reminds one of Marilyn Monroe.
But Portman’s performance is far more than the voice. Critic David Edelstein, 57, says Portman nails “Jackie’s mix of slyness and shyness.”
Max Casella, 49, co-stars as Jack Valenti, an aide who clashed with Jackie when she insisted on walking in the open streets with her husband’s casket as it was taken to his funeral.
The screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, 38, won the best screenplay award at the Venice Film Festival. He has a foot in screenwriting and politics that’s perfect for this film. A grad of Harvard, where he sometimes wrote on Jewish issues for the Harvard Crimson, Oppenheim went on to produce political talk shows such as “The Chris Matthews Show” and “Scarborough Country.” Now he’s the senior producer of “The Today Show.” “Jackie” is his first solo screenplay, but he has contributed to the scripts of two recent action films.
Because this film will be in the news through the Golden Globes and Academy Awards, I’ll save some “Jackie” nuggets and some interesting Jackie-Jewish stories for a future column.
Singing the praises of ‘La La’
The romantic musical “La La Land” (opening Friday, Dec. 16) has received major kudos from critics and is an Oscar contender. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who had good chemistry in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” in 2011, star as a jazz musician working in dives and an aspiring actress-barista trying to survive. Jason Fuchs, 30, whose father was raised Hasidic, has a supporting role.
The film was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who is best known for his 2014 film “Whiplash” (in which the main character was Jewish). In 2015, Chazelle told the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles that his Catholic parents were dissatisfied with his Christian Sunday school, so instead they sent him to Hebrew school for four years. About that time, Chazelle said: “I was very, very into Hebrew … and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade. I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing.’”
Justin Hurwitz, 31, is the “La La Land” composer; he wrote 15 songs for the film. Hurwitz and Chazelle met at Harvard, where they formed a successful rock band. The lyrics were written by the songwriting team of Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, 31, who met at the University of Michigan and have since written several shows together, including the Broadway hit musical version of “A Christmas Story.” Pasek comes from a quite religious Jewish home.
Franco as a billionaire
The comedy “Why Him?” (opening Dec. 23) is directed and co-written by John Hamburg, 46. The plot is similar to “Meet the Parents” (2000), which Hamburg also co-wrote.
James Franco, 38, plays Laird, a young billionaire who is dating Stephanie (Zoey Deutch, 22). Laird’s vulgar personality turns off her parents, Barb and Ned (Megan Mullally and Bryan Cranston), then things go into overdrive when Laird tells them he intends to propose to Stephanie in five days. Laird tries everything to win them over while Ned tries anything he can to get Laird out of his daughter’s life.
Columnist Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at email@example.com.