'I Am JFK Jr.': TV Review

Getty Images/Spike TV
An incisive cinematic portrait.
8/1/2016

Spike TV's documentary chronicles the tragically short life of the son of the slain 35th president.

Considering that he died in 1999, it's amazing that it took so long for a documentary to come along examining the tragically short life of John F. Kennedy Jr. Spike TV has rectified the situation with I Am JFK Jr., an incisive cinematic portrait featuring commentary by many of his friends and colleagues, as well as extensive archival footage showcasing its subject's magnetic charisma.

"He was the closest thing we had to a crown prince," says television journalist Chris Cuomo, a friend of Kennedy's. The son of the slain president was certainly a fanatical object of media obsession, with the paparazzi chronicling his every move. That he was drop-dead handsome and prone to gallivanting around New York City shirtless certainly didn't quell their interest.

The first iconic photograph of Kennedy, shot when he was just three years old, was one of him saluting his father's coffin as the funeral procession passed by. The documentary naturally features that image prominently, as well as news footage and home movies showing him scampering around with his glamorous father and mother.

JFK Jr.'s young life was further emotionally scarred by the 1968 assassination of his uncle Robert, who had become a surrogate father. Nonetheless, thanks to his close relationships with his mother and his sister Caroline, he grew up to be a remarkably well adjusted young man, eager to make his own way in the world and not simply trade in on his inherited fame.

John Perry Barlow, the Grateful Dead lyricist whose ranch Kennedy worked on as a teenager and who became a good friend, says in an interview that JFK Jr. wanted to be a "good man" rather than a great one. But it was not always an easy task.

"It's difficult to maintain your goodness when you're being treated as a 'thing,'" Barlow observes.

Kennedy attracted national attention when he introduced his uncle Ted at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, spurring many to speculate about his possible future in politics. He pursued a career in law and became a New York City Assistant District Attorney, although not without failing the Bar Exam twice before he finally passed.

Not surprisingly, the film spends a significant amount of time on Kennedy's romantic life, with Barlow describing him as a "serial monogamist." Among his romantic conquests was Madonna, although his executive assistant, RoseMarie Terenzio, dismisses it as "maybe one night… sorry."

He had a serious relationship with actress Daryl Hannah, but didn't settle down until his marriage to Carolyn Bessette. Their relationship suffered under the strain of the constant hounding by the media, which drove Bessette to despair. One of the film's more moving clips shows Kennedy stepping outside their New York City home to plead with reporters to leave them alone.

He seemed to have found his calling with his magazine George, which married politics with pop culture and whose first cover featured model Cindy Crawford as a sexy George Washington. But after a splashy start, the publication suffered, and folded soon after the 1999 private plane crash in which Kennedy, along with his wife and sister-in-law, was killed.

Showcasing extensive news clips as well as excerpts from televised interviews with Larry King and Oprah Winfrey, the documentary includes commentary from such celebrities as Crawford, Mike Tyson and Robert De Niro. But it's the commentary from his friends and associates that are the most revealing, as well as the most amusing.

Describing the awe with which people approached Kennedy, Barlow says, "You could see them shedding IQ points as they got close to him."

Network: Spike TV

Directors: Steve Burgess, Derik Murray

Screenwriter: Steve Burgess

Producer: Derik Murray

 

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