Every now and again I come upon a film that asks of me to slow down a little, ponder the moments if I will, allow the flutter of living and dying to form a pathway I hadn’t considered before or not in a long while. Films like Hilary and Jackie suggest there is much more to be shared that lives and breathes in the cool calm of performance than any shaky landscape epic. It is in this place that I must also accept the fact that I’m going to lavish the brutal truth of fractured lives more than many, certainly the grand public more suited to detours than facing the catastrophe that lives inside us. It helps that I see a lot of films differently from the many, darn near most, especially other reviewers and critics when it comes to performance driven films. You could say I’m partial to them, allow them all kinds of room to meander too long on the concentrated emotional segue, lingering on the beautifully pained and personal suffering of exquisitely drawn moments in place of so much extraneous computer effects chicanery. It’s almost funny the way some armchair bloggers could very well be describing another movie when compared to my review of the same, never mind their stature – the serious ones and lesser scribes plucking away at keyboards at all hours of the day and night might as well be gasoline to my box of matches – poof! I have to take it all in stride, consider my words will invariably find their way just as other more popular, perhaps more widely publicized and better propelled will find theirs and sometimes they will collide in places like this, erupt in flames and smoke and indifference. It’s up to you to make what you will of the twisted metal and jagged, nearly shapeless wreckage. But I stand behind my jabbing, fighting always for the middle ground of sense and sensibility – the practical advice that might just have some meaning in the grand universe of movie reviews.
I think it best the journey that takes you well into the caverns of story, leading you there with characters and beautifully photographed scenes, caught up in the moments of discovery. It is the middle of every story that rewards the most, finds emotions there, if there’s a soul to all the posturing. Sycophants and shameless hunt and ‘likers’ perpetuating the myth of talent, the illusion of practiced writing will say otherwise, drunk on the gluttony of overburdened megaliths of shameless bad making. Hopefully the charmed will find the right light and take in the heady aftershave of stealing away, embrace what we write hoping others will read us, forced to read theirs however glib, generally listless and lacking as to induce sleepiness from the onset. I can appreciate the differences when it comes to certain mainstream appetites, our addiction to the destruction of boredom by whatever means prove available, distracting routine and everyday mucking about – but when it comes to character films, performance driven dramas that make you laugh and discover certain reason for tears, it’s almost unbearable fighting my way through such senseless opinion to introduce lovely films to open air. Yet I go on when I’ve discovered something new or revisited an old favorite like Hilary and Jackie.
Hilary and Jackie invites the viewer into the world of the gifted musician Jackie du Pre, wonderfully realized by British actress Emily Watson who embodies the youth and abandon of her illustrious career beginnings through her inevitable painful physical and mental failings. It is a riveting portrayal of an artist stricken with the horrors of incredible talent robbed before its time. Watson’s wounded confidence is calculated, palpable and admirable yet the film did not find mainstream American audiences raised on violence porn and comic book caricature. Hilary and Jackie is nevertheless an emotional recounting that explores the invisible illnesses that erode friends and families, the silent deaths lived every day all around us and the terrible toll they take. The film focuses on the period during which Jackie du Pre maintained an intimate sexual relationship with her sister Hillary’s husband, Kiffer Finzi. Although Hillary encouraged their relationship it served as a constant source of frustration, animosity and fragility that threatened far more than the sanctity of marriage but the very mental stability of Jackie’s immense talents. While some have criticized the link between mental illness and the truly talented, dismissing the inherent brutalities of the creative process on all sense of order, it is for this portraiture of the gifted and the doomed that for me is the most telling, the most emotionally rich and revealing of the artistic merits of the filmmaker to meet and manipulate our understanding and biases. I cannot help but wonder to what extent these critics have ever suffered by, for and because of their art. Leading one to explore the felonies and misdemeanors of life’s tortured souls accomplishment enough and should suffice a film of such nuanced performances almost but not quite getting it right – like life, the tortured soul fighting so save itself before it’s too late.
Hilary and Jackie will not resolve your disparaging opinions of the troubled artist’s life any more than it will entertain your need for the grand enticements of American films. Perhaps you would be best prepared for this film by screening Jane Campion’s The Piano and hold tight to the resolved worlds of creativity, love and hate as the same side of two flawed, desperate souls. I would suggest Quills for the broken artist sealed up in the towers of the mind fighting every breath for the air to create, to survive without art to detour an inevitably tragic end. It would give you pause to know that beneath the polished surface of a King’s Speech or knowing how family can wage unlikable but necessary wars that lead to momentary wins and losses the way Little Miss Sunshine is as much about wounded people corralled by their relationships as set free by them. Jackie and Hillary suggests even true stories about real people are subjected to the gut strings of our untimely experiences with terrible people, places and resolutions. By the end of the movie it’s nearly impossible to imagine art is ever easy or easily digested, that art is easily meaningful without the threat of losing it every second of your life before it’s gone forever.
It’s hard to know what to make of a film critic that seems so ready to discredit the filmmaker’s every effort to marry great talent and mental illness as not only familiar halves of the human soul but sometimes dependent ones, consumed in the creative fires. At least Rottentomatoes got it right and Mr. Ebert thought it extraordinary. Some of the film does weigh with the burden of all-encompassing, yes melodramatic at times and even unabashedly self-serving. Personally I disagree with the reviewers that seem set on discrediting the filmmaker as gimmickry, the sentiments akin to missing the proverbial boat, better suited to the dull strings and airy soap opera theatrics of Hollywood blockbusters. And what of the writer’s qualifications and experiences with illness, with the interwoven disparity that comes from the artist torn apart by her own mind, body and soul? It seems to be the blunt critic operating from the safe haven of having never truthfully experienced such horrors from within and therefore he’s unable to properly appreciate the lengths to which the filmmaker and actors have portrayed truthfully, under imaginary circumstances, the very nature of coming undone. I can definitely appreciate the criticism of the film’s heavy handed emotional mining, the use of opposing perspectives of the sister’s to examine, however loosely the source of their fractured relationships and broken accomplishments. Perhaps in the end it is the film that asks the most questions and answers the least that succeeds when broken minds prevail and happy endings are an impossibility of closure. Hilary and Jackie seem to suggest we all spend our moments differently but in the company of others.
Hilary and Jackie walks a tightrope between fact and fiction, propelled by snap shot biographies that must always take creative license in the adaptation process whereby what stands for reality must be manipulated and translated. In the inevitable closed doors of opinions we must remind ourselves that experiences detoured for the experiences of the audience will find us sooner or later – sometimes in the car ride home, perhaps even later into the days that follow. It is there without the protective distractions of others that we must come to terms with our own failings and mortality in order to encapsulate decades in the span of two hours. The real credit should go to the moments lived, portrayed with integrity, however those moments might live on in finding the real amid the exclusionary within.