Quartet Sings an Entertaining, if Familiar, Tune
Beecham House for Retired Musicians is getting a new resident. With only a few short days until their annual gala celebration of Giuseppe Verdiís birthday, which also doubles a fundraiser to keep the doors of the home open, internationally acclaimed opera star Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) is moving in, this former darling of the classical musical arena a perceived diva many fellow residents are both in awe of and intimidated by.
Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins in Quartet
© The Weinstein Company
Not everyone, however. Wilfred ĎWilfí Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily ĎCissyí Robson (Pauline Collins) performed with Jean in the past and they know just about all there is to know about the aging star. As for Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), heís not so much annoyed that she is coming to live with them as he is angered and depressed by the fact, the two not only partners in song but also married for a short time as well.
The once inseparable foursome, torn apart by age, misdeed, deceit, shame and all manners of outside influence, find themselves suddenly back together. What more, theyíve been asked to perform together for the first time in decades at the gala, a momentous event that could potentially save Beecham House even if it will require Reginald and Jean to put their painful past mistakes behind them.
Quartet is not going to change the world. Its insights donít rattle oneís intellectual birdcage. It does not say anything that we do not expect it to or going into directions we do not readily anticipate. Screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), adapting his own play for the screen, isnít going for the jugular nor is he attempting to change the world. His scenario is nothing more than a sweet, simple parable of growing old and of the ways some, in this case musical artists of varying stripes, go about dealing with the last act of their respective lives.
Slight as it may be, that doesnít mean Quartet does not entertain. With confident, sure-footed direction by Dustin Hoffman (surprisingly making his debut behind the camera), beautiful camerawork by the great John de Borman (Made in Dagenham) and featuring multifaceted, suitably lived-in performances by the entire cast (and not just the center foursome), the movie had me grinning ear-to-ear for the majority of its running time. While certainly not essential, and not exactly a motion picture Iíd by even prices to go and see, as matinee fodder this blissful and uplifting drama is a melodious aria I personally found more than worthy of a rapturous applause.
Iím maybe pushing it a little on that front, but honestly not by much. Smith could play a character like Jean Horton in her sleep. At the same time, she doesnít go through the motions, pulling off moments of regret and longing that nearly broke my heart. Connolly, stealing scenes left and right with his deft comic timing, shows a maturity and a depth I canít recall seeing from him before, making some of his quieter moments hit home in a way I found warm and inviting.
As for Courtenay and Collins, they steal the show and then some, and while the latter has the more showy role (Cissy is battling the early stages of dementia) that doesnít mean she attempts to eat up the screen or overplay her hand. No, both actors find a groove that is full of heart, emotion, intelligence and meaning, the pair of them oftentimes speaking volumes even when they are in reality saying very little. They are stunning, thereís no way else to put it, and I couldnít help but treasure just about every single second they appeared, whether together or apart, on the screen.
Hoffman populates the remainder of the cast, save the indomitable and always mesmerizing Michael Gambon, his flamboyant over-the-top performance somewhat of a surprising joy (but only somewhat because, really, who would expect anything less from him), with famed musicians and singers of all ages and stripes. Iconic opera singer Dame Gwyneth Jones has the most central role of the side players, and to say the hits all of her notes and shines like the star she is of course is something of a major understatement.
Granted, all of this being said Iím not about to proclaim Quartet something of a minor masterpiece. It isnít, not even close, running mainly in the same circles The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel did a half a year or so prior. It just does it with even less effort and, in my opinion at least, with a bit more honest emotion. These artists donít give in and refuse to give up, proving once again that if you can maintain a song in your heart and keep a dance in your step being young is an ongoing state of grace that potentially could last forever.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ (out of 4)