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Hilary and Jackie

In the tradition of Shine, Hilary and Jackie is another exquisitely acted biography of a deeply disturbed, yet undeniably brilliant classical musician. This story of cellist Jacqueline du Pré (Emily Watson) and her antagonistic, symbiotic relationship with her older sister Hilary (Rachel Griffiths) is every bit as dramatic and sensational as pianist David Helfgott's descent into twittering madness, and would've made a fine movie if director Anand Tucker weren't an insufferable hack. Based on the autobiography A Genius in the Family by Hilary du Pré and her brother Piers, the film chronicles Jackie's temperamental rise from the shadow of Hilary's early fluting prowess into a quirky star of the classical music scene. However, like all gifted musicians, Jackie just wants to feel special, and she quickly loses her mind, makes a sport of emotionally terrorizing her sister, and eventually succumbs to a degenerative disease and dies. Tucker fails to breathe any life into the oldest clichés about crazy geniuses. His style is overbearing and wrought with pretentiousness. When Jackie plays, his camera swirls around, enclosing on her like a vulture, as if he's competing with her to see who's the greater virtuoso. He loses. Watson is a terrific actress, and can fill a still frame with more passion and energy than any of Tucker's gratuitous dolly shots. Griffiths, too, is a supreme talent, but Tucker and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce paint both sisters into a corner. Jackie is needy, manipulative, and vicious, and Hilary is spinelessly in her sister's thrall. When the film approaches its controversial Rashomon-style centerpiece — Hilary implores her husband to have sex with Jackie, at her request, and he does — it is not a tragic moment or even a sad one. Both women are so hopelessly weak (and why? There's never any compelling motivation) that they deserve their sordid situation, and when Jackie finally melts into quivering wreck as a result of her deteriorating nervous system, it seems like there was never a better, more self-absorbed candidate for such a horrid fate. As Tucker's camera — and the prosaic score by Barrington Pheloung — howls in mourning, we reach for the remote and dread the next installment in this ponderous, superficial genre. Too many good performances are wasted to mention. Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen or pan-and-scan, and 5.1 Dolby Digital or Dolby 2.0. Includes production featurette, trailer, textual supplements, keep case.
—Dawn Taylor

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