The Good: Acting, Decent humor, Interesting characters, Good use of soundtrack, Decent direction
The Bad: Very predictable character and plot arcs
The Basics: Dustin Hoffman’s cinematic rendition of Quartet is smart, entertaining, and well worth watching for anyone who likes strong character-centered dramas.
It seems like lately I have been watching a number of films with mature casts dealing with the issues associated with aging and dealing with consequences of relationship complications that have remained unresolved for years. The latest film in the Swarts Geriatric Film Festival is Quartet. Quartet is a film by Dustin Hoffman, based upon a play and screenplay by Ronald Harwood. It is worth noting up front that I’ve not seen the play, so I cannot provide any comparative analysis. That said, Dustin Hoffman deserves a lot of credit for directing the film.
Hoffman’s direction makes Quartet into something much more than a play on screen. Unlike something like the classic The Lion In Winter (reviewed here!) where the director uses the camera and scope in such a limited fashion that makes one feel like they are just watching a play on the big screen, Quartet uses the film medium well. Hoffman catches the reactions of background characters, makes stylistic shots (focus on falling flowers and a cut to a wide landscape shot at night nail home one of the film’s most powerful emotional moments), and using the soundtrack to enhance mood and setting making for a well-rounded film that has remarkably good flow, despite being very formulaic in its plot progression.
The Beecham House is a retirement home for retired, aged, musicians. The residents keep themselves busy by practicing and performing with one another. A month before a gala that is intended to raise funds needed to save the exclusive facility, the gala’s chorus is running into performance problems. With the death of one of Beecham House’s star performers, the gala’s ticket sales drop off. When soprano vocalist Jean Horton arrives at Beecham House, the potential to save the gala soars. Horton, however, is reclusive and insists on staying retired as opposed to performing like the other residents and Reginald, her ex-husband, is anything but happy to see her join the community.
While Reg and Jean struggle to reconcile the issues that led to their divorce decades prior, Cedric (who is promoting and organizing the gala) strikes upon a capital idea: he wants Reg, Jean, Wilf and Cissy to perform their quartet from Rigoletto. Jean is resistant to the idea, but the rest truly want to perform and save Beecham House. When Jean angrily pushes away her friends and actually hurts Cissy, she is easily manipulated into performing the quartet and doing her part to save Beecham House.
Despite the plot predictability, Quartet is thoroughly enjoyable. The dialogue is sharp and the movie is packed with witty zingers. In fact, the film is so much more vivacious than one might expect given how the average age of the performer in the film is over eighty. Quartet, despite being fictional and the result of wonderful writing, is a great reminder of how much life can still exist for people of any age. Wit need not be limited to the young and the speed of delivery is not dependent upon youth. The dialogue makes one almost forget that they know exactly where the film is going (not to the film’s distributors: horrible preview trailer; if you’re making a predictable film, try not to show the whole damn thing in the trailer).
Hoffman is able to sell Quartet using a tremendous cast. Led by Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly (who has never been funnier than in this film!), the characters in Quartet are memorable and well-defined. Pauline Collins is delightfully batty as Cissy and her ability to emote makes her character’s swings from forgetful and somewhat delusional to insightful and inspirational is incredible to watch. Maggie Smith has been given so many roles of late where she plays a reserved, “proper,” woman that it’s beginning to feel like she’s typecast. She makes Jean Horton believable and brings gravitas to the role that makes the emotional conflict between Jean and Reg credible.
On DVD, Quartet features a commentary track which is insightful and featurettes on six aspects of the film (some of which are a little repetitive). They are pretty much what one expects from a drama film.
Quartet is a little film that feels like what it is, a tight, somewhat predictable character-driven drama that tells a very specific story. It tells the story well and is worth watching.
For other films with a mature cast, please visit my reviews of:
A Late Quartet
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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