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USA 2012
Directed by
Dustin Hoffman
98 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Beecham House is a specialist retirement facility, catering to retired musicians, with the emphasis upon opera singers. Wilf (Billy Connolly), Cissy (Pauline Collins), Cedric (Michael Gambon) and Reginald (Tom Courtenay) all feature large among the many notable inmates. Their equilibrium is disrupted when old compatriot, famed opera singer, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), comes to stay.

It has been interesting in recent times to see a slew of films recently featuring senior citizens. It is reasonable that aging baby boomers want to see more of themselves reflected on screen rather than young nubile things grappling with sexuality and teen angst! However there is no shortage of a different type of angst in Quartet, Hoffman’s lively, funny and, at times, touching directorial debut based on a play by Ronnie Harwood. The angst here is the universal one experienced by most aging folks – “How the hell did I get this old!” along with the concomitant issues – forgetfulness, ailing health, and the decline of those talents of which one was once so proud.  But it is also about optimism in old age, the ever-present child within, and the possibility that, as Hoffman, who is now in his mid-70s, puts it, “your soul can expand”.

Like the recent oldies-on-the-loose-in-India tale, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet features more of the cream of British acting, and, to the credit of Hoffman, he keeps the sensibility utterly English throughout.  The characters are a motley collection – Cedric with his campy pretentiousness, Cissy her delightful, forgetful girlishness, Wilf still a rampant womaniser, and oh so serious Reg, nursing a long held pain that relates to Jean. Smith is the icing on the cake here, her character exuding elegance and pride, hiding deep-seated insecurity as to whether she can still sing. You see the eponymous quartet had once been Reggie, Jean, Cissy and Wilf, and were famed for singing the Act 3 quartet from Rigoletto. The hope is that they might do a reprise for Beecham’s annual gala concert which will celebrate Verdi’s birthday.

Films about older folk often run the risk of being patronising, but this one doesn’t fall into that trap. There are moments of humour at the expense of aging, but never does it feel overdone or condescending – simply truthful. There are some lovely memorable scenes of the interaction between the old folk and youngsters who have come to either play classical music with the residents, or to listen to Reg’s regular lectures on opera, and how it compares to rap, both being, as defined by Reg, an expression of an outpouring of emotions that all people feel.  There are some lovely musical pieces in the film, including some lighter moments when a couple of the old geezers go into a Flanagan and Allen routine with the song “Are You Having Any Fun?”

Truly impressive are the many actual retired musos and opera singers who populate the film. Hoffman managed to get an astounding array of known singers and musicians to come on board and the use of real performers adds depth to proceedings. And they all act brilliantly to boot. The production design of the film is lovely, with the graciousness of the interiors and grounds easy on the eye. Each of the characters’ idiosyncratic dressing styles has been carefully thought out, and adds another layer.

Although there is nothing new or ground-breaking, Quartet is a film to delight, even if, like me, you know nothing of opera thanks to such great actors who remind us that there may be some redeeming factors to the advancing years.

 FYI: Hoffman's originally started to direct Straight Time in 1978 but pulled out when he found it too difficult to also play the lead role. He was also at one time slated to direct, Dead Poet's Society in which he was intended to play the lead.




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