QUARTET (UK 2012) – Glee for Seniors!
After 45 years in front of the camera, starring in such classics as THE GRADUATE, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, THE MARATHON MAN, or RAINMAN – to name but a few – Dustin Hoffman, at age 75, has finally turned his considerable talents to directing.
And he has chosen to work in Britain for his directorial debut QUARTET, based on Ron Harwood’s 1999 stage play.
QUARTET takes place in Beecham House, a state-funded retirement home – and certainly better than most – situated in lush and picturesque grounds, where any resemblance to Downtown Abbey is purely coincidental! It is here that former opera divas and symphonic musicians spend their twilight years, where a love of music still remains at the core of everyday life. And once a year, there is even the chance for them to get back onstage and perform before an enthusiastic crowd.
The annual gala concert in honor of Giuseppe Verdi is just around the corner, the proceeds to go in support of Beecham House, which needs a larger amount of financial assistance than usual this year. In fact, there is every danger that it will have to close its doors through lack of funding, which is why this year’s concert is more important than most. Organized by director Cedric Livingstone (Michael Gambon), the highlight of the evening is to be a special performance by three of the operatic residents: Reggie (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins).
Everything seems to be going well, despite a few minor, age-related difficulties – until the arrival, out of the blue, of opera diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Her appearance is possibly a boon. For this would add one more voice to the aforementioned trio and enable them to perform the legendary Quartet from Rigoletto, which once created a furor in the operatic world. There’s only one problem: Jean refuses to sing. Apparently she and Reggie have a “history”; a brief and bitter attempt at matrimony in their long-distant past makes the mood chilly indeed. And despite the many years that have since passed, it seems that little has changed…
QUARTET achieves an almost perfect balance between humor and emotion, sensitively portrayed by Hoffman from the very outset. Inflated egos collide in this musical microcosm, but all the characters are lovingly drawn, despite their egos and idiosyncrasies, and this gives the movie its special charm. Much of the comedy is provided by Scots actor, comic and musician Billy Connolly, who plays an aging, skirt-chasing opera star. Maggie Smith, of course, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as the Grand Diva – although it was possibly more a tribute for her portrayal of the Dowager Duchess in DOWNTOWN ABBEY – joined by Michael “Dumbledore” Gambon as the eccentric and hugely egotistical director, and Pauline Collins as the sweet-natured, ever more forgetful Cissy, complete Dustin Hoffman’s QUARTET and, together, make it a harmonious delight.
Although certainly tempting, Hoffman never overdoes it. The humor never drifts into foolishness, even when it strays somewhat over the top. Likewise the emotional moments are presented with such restraint that, when they do emerge, they somehow avoid being cheesy.
QUARTET is not particularly original, no masterpiece, nor stroke of genius. We’ve seen it all before, usually in a somewhat younger ambience, but this is familiarity with a twist: GLEE meets THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, if you like. But for all that, from first to last second, this charming and entertaining British comedy is a tribute to life, love, and music, leaving viewers with a song in their hearts and a smile on their lips. And who could ask for more?
QUARTET (UK 2012); Distributor: The Weinstein Company (US) / DCM (Germany); Running time: 98 mins; Director: Dustin Hoffman; Cast: Andrew Sachs, Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins, Sheridan Smith, Tom Courtenay; Release dates: 1 January (UK) / 11. January (US) / 24. January (Germany)
For more information and trailer: www.quartett-derfilm.de