PLOT: At a retirement home for aged musicians, three members of a former quartet (Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins) are shocked when their long-estranged fourth member (Maggie Smith) becomes a fellow resident. With an annual concert approaching, and their home in jeopardy, they have no choice but to try and reform the quartet for a final, triumphant performance.
REVIEW: QUARTET is a surprisingly low-key directorial debut for Dustin Hoffman, in that itís a quiet, charming, life-affirming, and veddy-veddy British tale, that would have seemed natural from a director like John Madden or Tom Hooper, but is a nice surprise from Hoffman. Working from a script by Ronald Harwood (THE PIANIST, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY)- which is based on his own stage-play, QUARTET is an extremely pleasant little film that should appeal to the same audience that made THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL such a surprise hit this summer.
Like MARIGOLD, QUARTET is perfectly cast. Unlike a lot of writer-directors, Hoffman stays off-screen, perhaps knowing that his own star-power might be a distraction. As the titular QUARTET, heís cast four English actors that seem to have aged like a fine wine. Billy Connolly plays the cheeky Wilf, who- despite a stroke, still dodders around the estate- convincing the maintenance men to sell him weed, and flirting with the nurses and resident doctor. Tom Courtenay is his more reserved best friend, Reginald, whose primary concern is aging with dignity, although he amuses himself by teaching the local youngsters about Opera, while also educating himself about hip-hop in order to relate to them better. Pauline Collins is the daffiest of the bunch, who Reg and Wilf- are afraid might be slipping into senility.
Still, they seem to be a happy bunch- until the day the quartetís diva, former superstar Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) walks into their home. Turns out, Reg and Jean were once married (for nine hours) - until she broke his heart by confessing an affair, leaving him bitter to the point that he never remarried. Her presence is almost enough to thoroughly unhinge him- although if you guess that some of the old sparks might once again fly between the two, you wouldnít be far off.
In some ways, QUARTET feels like a bit of an antidote to the thoroughly depressing (but undeniably excellent) AMOUR, with this being a much more hopeful look at old age. Hoffmanís film seems to be saying that as long as youíve got friends to rely on, getting old isnít half bad- although it helps that his entire cast seems to have aged exceptionally well. All of the parts seem tailor-made, with Smith playing a role thatís not too far removed for her popular part on DOWNTON ABBEY. Itís also a real treat seeing Tom Courtenay return to the screen in such a good role. Other than bit parts in movies like THE GOLDEN COMPASS, heís stuck mostly to the stage and British TV. Itís strange seeing him here- as he only really seemed to pursue a film career in his youth, where he was kind of the James Dean of British cinema, with his iconic role in THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. Heís absolutely superb, and especially good opposite Smith. I also loved his opera talks, where his open-mindedness wins over a class of inner-city kids- encouraging them to see the similarities between opera and hip-hop, while doing away with the snobbery often associated with the form.
Other than the titular QUARTET- the other scene-stealer here has to be Michael Gambon, as the Mumu-wearing, ego-maniacal director Cedric (which heís quick to remind, is pronounced See-dric). Iím actually kinda surprised Hoffman didnít go for this part himself- as it would have suited him, but Gambon is hilarious, and thoroughly chews the scenery.
While it probably wonít make a huge splash on the awards circuit, QUARTET is a really fun film that- sandwiched between heavy Oscar dramas, and January genre fare, seems like a nice bit of counter-programming. And no- you certainly DONíT have to be over seventy to enjoy this. If you enjoyed BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, you should give this a shot. Itís lovely.