QUARTET (2013)

Genre: Drama/Comedy
Director: Dustin Hoffman
Cast: Maggie Smith, Albert Finney, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Ronnie Fox, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://weinsteinco.com/sites/Quartet/

Opening Day: 31 January 2013

Synopsis: 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?

Movie Review:

For the old folks at Beecham House, home for retired musicians, it seems that old age is but a number as they keep themselves busy with all-day rehearsals; their passion for music overflowing into classes and talks to educate the young.

Yet, time has passed and while they were virtuosos during their heydays, the residents now face the crises of old age. Some find their talent slipping away as fingers become less nimble and voices crack. As characters quip in the show, “Old age is not for sissies.”

This bittersweet melody forms the backbone of Quartet, a film based on the famous West End play by Ronald Harwood. Dustin Hoffman, better known for his role as an actor in films such as Tootsie (1982) and Rain Man (1988), makes his directorial debut in this film, and is not too shabby at all. After a somewhat tentative opening, Quartet quickly picks up rhythm, especially as it segues into the second half.

Neat and picturesque, Quartet has many scenes showing the characters taking walks in the great English outdoors which are nicely shot and pleasantly accompanied by the film’s classical soundtrack. Hedsor House is an excellent setting for the fictional Beecham House, although bearing a slight resemblance to Pemberley, one almost expects a wet-shirted Mr Darcy to emerge from a neighbouring pond!

Instead, it is Maggie Smith as the infamous opera diva Jean Horton, who descends upon the home, much to the admiration of her old colleagues (who are also fans) and her nemeses’ chagrin. Clashing egos of great opera stars who were “someone once” make for enormous fun, but Smith’s portrayal of Jean is dignified and does not quite reach the levels of l’enfant terrible that the film seemingly suggests her character to be, in anticipation of her arrival. Her aloof veneer belies the fact that she is just like the rest of the residents who harbour fond memories of the old days in the limelight and long for the thrill of performing live again.

The other characters are colorful enough. There is Jean’s friend, Cissy (Pauline Collins), whose endearingly pert and ditzy demeanours mask her fragile state within, key comic fodder and resident aged pervert Wilf (Billy Connolly), and Jeans’ estranged ex-husband Reginald (Tom Courtenay). Together, the four are a class act. The driving arc of the film sees them coming together to perform the Rigoletto, Giuseppe Verdi’s three-act opera comprising the tropes of infidelity that parallels the dynamics in Jean’s and Reginald’s soured relationship. With Michael Gambon as the hilariously haughty and delusional ex-director of the musicians, Cedric Livingston, it suffices to say that Quartet boasts a competent cast.

As stories about old folks go, it’s easy to compare The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) with Quartet, but the latter is a little more tempered. First-time director Hoffman has miles to go before he ever strikes gold like the legendary Mike Leigh did with the impeccably balanced and quintessentially British Another Year (2010), but he does demonstrate a flair for intuitively reining in bits which could have bordered on cheesiness, while channeling light-hearted fun in earnestly heartwarming moments. As a film, Quartet is mild, but charmingly so. Not at all the drab fare we come to expect of sub-par comedies, it gently delights throughout and finishes with an ending (and end credits) that will leave you reeling with smiles.

Movie Rating:

(A charming film that luxuriates in a rhythm of its own, Quartet will make for a lovely outing at the movies)

Review by Tay Huizhen

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