Loosely timed to the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, “Kennedys’ Home Movies” is an unexpectedly serious documentary given the source, what with all the time TLC spends pallin’ around with the likes of Kate Gosselin and Sarah Palin. Then again, perhaps that’s because this French production (with narration by Stockard Channing) examines the closest thing America has to a royal family — one that has repeatedly sacrificed for its commitment to public service. The Kennedys are so intertwined in 20th-century U.S. history that such a peek behind the family’s curtains, as it were, proves all but irresistible.
Granted, this two-hour project isn’t above a tabloid touch in documenting the Kennedys’ famous peccadilloes; still, for anyone old enough, the trip down memory lane proves absorbing and emotionally affecting, with engrossing little tidbits even for those well-versed in Kennedy lore.
Culled from family homevideo, photographs and archival news footage, “Kennedys’?” begins with patriarch Joe Sr.’s moguldom and move into politics (we see his young kids with him in the 1930s, when he served as ambassador to England), followed by Joe Jr.’s death and the shifting of the family’s political ambitions to Jack.
The filmmakers deftly cut between the “flawless portrait” the public sees — video of Jackie at her husband’s inaugural, say — and these rarely seen, grainy homemovies. They include the president and his stunning 31-year-old First Lady frolicking with kids and dogs, those famous touch football games in Hyannis Port, and Bobby with his own brood (11 kids in all) in a house described as “happy chaos.”
Inevitably, encompassing more than 50 years and three generations in a two-hour span requires significant crunching, and the last half-hour or so drifts somewhat aimlessly after the horror of Bobby’s assassination.
TLC has already exhibited inordinate interest in the U.K.’s upcoming royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, scheduling numerous specials related to that event. If nothing else, “Home Movies” offers a reminder that in terms of glamour, America once had its own Camelot.