Wednesday, July 3, 2013


For a delightful, if leisurely-paced, time check out “Quartet” from director (yes, director) Dustin Hoffman. The 2012 film stars Maggie Smith (I’ll watch anything with Maggie Smith in it) along with other British stalwarts Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon. The plot, to borrow from the Rotten Tomatoes website, is as follows:

“Beecham House is abuzz. The rumor circling the halls is that the home for retired musicians is soon to play host to a new resident. Word is, it's a star. For Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) this sort of talk is par for the course at the gossipy home. But they're in for a special shock when the new arrival turns out to be none other than their former singing partner, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Her subsequent career as a star soloist, and the ego that accompanied it, split up their long friendship and ended her marriage to Reggie, who takes the news of her arrival particularly hard. Can the passage of time heal old wounds? And will the famous quartet be able to patch up their differences in time for Beecham House's gala concert?”

The answers to these and other pressing questions are probably not in doubt, but there is definitely satisfaction in watching seasoned pros do their utmost with the material. Given the range of talent, it’s a safe bet that the performances would have been sublime in any case, but since the director is Dustin Hoffman I suspect he worked as an actor with other actors to elicit just a little more. (In fact, given his reputation as a perfectionist, it must have been interesting to see if he really worked his cast or just gave them free reign. Probably a little of both.) (It’s definitely some kind of an acting lesson just watching Maggie Smith, as the retired diva, sitting in her armchair at dusk, listening to her old recordings, reminiscing and possibly regretting. No words, no movement, just a brilliant actor simply being.)

Of course, I think everything sounds just a little better with a British accent, including the surprising – if justified – use of the f-bomb. I’m just saying…

For classical music (especially opera) buffs, there's a fair amount of music to be enjoyed, performed by real-life retired musicians and singers, all of whom are acknowledged at the end of the film. It's a touching tribute and a reminder that life doesn't have to end at retirement: the movie is as much about aging and growing old with spirit and dignity as anything else. As one character is fond of quoting (thanks to Bette Davis) "Old age isn't for sissies".

In any event, it’s a delightful little gem of a picture that’s definitely worth a look. Buy some scones, brew some tea and curl up with a cast of pros in “Quartet”.

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