Thursday, February 21

REVIEW: Quartet

Directed by Dustin Hoffman
2012 Comedy Drama
1 hour 38 minutes
From The Weinstein Company
and BBC Films

Maggie Smith
Tom Courtenay
Billy Connolly
Pauline Collins
Michael Gambon

I was a little late in seeing this one but I don't want to delay a moment longer in expressing my admiration for Dustin Hoffman's expert directorial debut.  It is at least his first credited directing gig.  I cannot imagine someone like Hoffman not sticking in his two cents' worth in any number of his films, whether appreciated or not.  And I am rarely impressed by anyone's maiden directorial effort and that includes from an actor.  But Dusty Boy, you done did it in presenting a thoughtful, intelligent, fun movie.

This was a slam dunk for me.  It had a cherished import.  First off, it's English through and through.  It stars four wonderful actors in the title role and one more for good measure.  I love films where all actors have scenes with one another and are often confined to a few sets.  It helps, too, when they all have a common goal that is likely to be reached at the end.  This was like a trip to the candy store... simply too delicious to resist.

Those English films just floor me with their honesty, charm, good writing and good acting.  Seeing Quartet was not unlike seeing Tea with Mussolini, Mrs. Palfry at the Claremont, Ladies in Lavender, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and a host of others.  Since so many feature the same actors, it's no wonder they all can ace projects like this one.

All of the action (loosely used... trust me) takes place at a retirement home for musicians.  Some play instruments, some sing.  Most everything falls into the classical/operatic arena and most of the residents are dealing with charity, maladies, crabbiness, trying to complete their final acts with a modicum of respect and dignity.

All around there are pods of former performers.  They sit at tables in the dining room with their buddies.  Courtenay, Connolly and Collins (I'll have a CC & C) form one group.  Courtenay is deadly serious about everything he does.  Connolly is playful and tries to keep his buddy from getting too serious.  Collins is on the way to losing her mental faculties.  But they stay good friends. 

The entire place puts on a show, a tribute really, to Verdi, once a year and these three need a fourth to make up their quartet for a rollicking finale.  Into this mix comes Smith, the most famous and perhaps most gifted performer of the bunch.  She is still the diva, though it pains her that her finances are lacking.  An added snafu is that she was once married to Courtenay and neither is happy about the unplanned reunion.  Nonetheless, Smith is recruited as the fourth for the quartet and she wants nothing to do with it. 

From here springs a honey of a little film.  It's almost too bad it's an art house film because that means it won't be seen by larger audiences.  The truth is it really isn't for everyone.  Leave your teenage grandchildren at home.  I think it should be seen by everyone who can relate to older people and their lives.  Here is a bit of a gem.  I would have likely given it four stars had it been   longer and delved into their lives a bit more.

Maggie Smith, of course, is on a roll these days.  If you don't know she's the dowager countess on Downton Abbey, you must be from the deepest jungles in Colombia and sampling too much of their chief export.  She looks nothing like that character here.  I have been a great fan of hers since I first saw her in the sixties in such films as Young Cassidy, The VIPs, The Honey Pot and Othello.  I haven't seen all of her films but I'm guessing most of them.  Quartet shows the lady at her glamorous best.  

The delightful Michael Gambon always adds so much to his films and here he provides most of the comedy traipsing around in his caftan as the head honcho of this musical performance.

As for the other three in the quartet, it was like old home week for me and absolutely an added perk for seeing this film.  I had to look up Tom Courtenay in imdb to see what he has been doing over the years and I realized I have not seen him since The Dresser and that was 1983.  I have not seen Pauline Collins since Shirley Valentine (1989) and I do not know why she was not nominated for a supporting Oscar for this film.  And Billy Connolly... my God is he the playful one.  Always.  I suspect out of films as well as in.  I first saw him, I think, in the great Mrs. Brown (1997) and the last time in The Last Samurai (1993).  It was lovely catching up again.

Hoffman and his Quartet

And it is always lovely to have a film experience like this.  It transported me to a place where I felt good and loving and interested in the lives of older people who still had something to contribute and by and large did so with grace and spirit.

I went to a weekday matinee and was only one of 13 people in the small theater (you know I counted).  And if I wasn't the youngest one in that theater, I'll gargle your Geritol.  Ah yes, it was a lovely experience.

Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee

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