Friday, November 25, 2011

Hilary and Jackie: A Meditation on Lost Things

Film Review by River

Emily Watson is tremendous. In the last half of "Hilary and Jackie," in which she stars as the titular Jacqueline Du Pre alongside Rachel Griffiths, there's a shift between who she seems to be and who she may actually be.

She initially appears spoiled, controlling and spiteful, but you begin to see her social awkwardness and vulnerability. Who is the famous cellist Jacqueline Du Pre? Will we ever know?

The memoir on which this film was based was written by her sister Hilary De Pre and her brother Piers. But can they really sum up and explain an enigmatic character like Jackie?

The film seems to be a meditation on lost things- love, talent, and relationships past. Hilary and Jacqueline grow up close, their bonds seemingly irrevocable. Hilary, the eldest, is a talented flautist, and "Jacks," as she is called, plays the cello. Heckled by their mother at an early age to be "as good as each other," the two nevertheless share an almost twin-like bond in which each one can sometimes tell what the other is thinking.

But as time passes, Jacqueline begins to act rather odd. When Hilary hooks up with Kiffer (David Morrissey), Jacqueline laments that her sister is "leaving her" and quickly picks up a man of her own: Danny (James Frain), who is Jewish, much to the chagrin of Jacqueline's anti-Semitic parents.

At first Jacqueline's behavior is simply annoying and casually cruel, but soon she becomes increasingly strange and self-destructive. As she grows sicker and sicker, it becomes clear that their sisterly bonds will be tested harshly.

Rachel Griffiths impresses as the more reasonable, less world-acclaimed sibling, but Emily Watson owns the role as her flighty, needy sister. She is one of the most underrated women in Hollywood. Watch her.

The first time I watched this film, I felt the setback was the "curse of the mainstream drama," a musical score that's overbearing at times coupled with an overuse of flashbacks.

Now I do a double-take on my allegation about the music. It is classical music, after all, and classical music tends to be a bit... rigorous. And if one insists on leaving it out of a movie about classical music, one shouldn't bother.

However, I stand by what I said initially about the series of flashbacks, which are disruptive, overblown, and feel like paranoid hallucinations. I did, however, like the pseudo-religious add-on at the end. As much as I generally hate pseudo-religious add-ons, this one surprised me.

As a whole, Hilary and Jackie is is quite extraordinary, like its protagonists. It seems as though it might be boring, but it is not, it seems as though it might be one-sided, yet it is not, and it shows Emily Watson at the peak of her talents.

With the bittersweet ending of the film and the controversy surrounding it and its literary counterpart, we are forced to confront the question: did anyone really know Jacqueline Du Pre? And similarly, do we really know each other?