Quartet (review)

Quartet green light Pauline Collins Maggie Smith

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I am not familiar with the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, and we might as well just go ahead and call it The Best Exotic Home for Retired Musicians — it’s even got Maggie Smith with a dud hip again. As the new trend in codger comedy at the movies goes, however, this is one of the most straight-up enjoyable examples of the nascent subgenre. Yes, it skims past the tough realities of growing old, with just the lightest hint of one character’s possibly worsening Alzheimer’s, but so what? Older characters — and older audiences who’d like to see people resembling themselves onscreen — deserve light dramedy too. Not every movie about older folks needs to dwell on the downsides of aging, not when there are upsides. Such as the very longstanding friendships that may make the golden years a time to hang and have fun with people who still get you, as we see among retired opera singers Reggie (Tom Courtenay: Gambit), Wilf (Billy Connolly: Brave), and Cissy (Pauline Collins: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), enjoying life in the admittedly ridiculously upscale Beecham House. It’s like the Fame high school, or maybe the Glee one, where everyone is creative and wonderfully kooky, including cranky diva Cedric (Michael Gambon: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2), in charge of the annual concert on Verdi’s birthday to raise money to keep the magnificent pile of a mansion operating for another year. But here comes trouble: Jean (Smith: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), Reggie’s unpleasant ex, is moving into the facility, and since she’s the final member of their erstwhile Rigoletto quartet, wouldn’t it be cool if Reggie, Wilf, Cissy, and Jean could sing together again at the benefit concert? Screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) adapted his own stage play here, which means this is a story that not only is primarily concerned with letting the splendid cast breathe and sing — literally as well as figuratively — but also rings with dialogue that is refreshingly smart and witty. It all so genuine and heartfelt that it transcends its own stereotypes and clichés to become something quite lovely.

viewed during the 56th BFI London Film Festival

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