There is a very small number of factors that give a movie sufficient appeal for me to shell out the cost of a movie ticket rather than wait to watch it as part of the Netflix subscription for which I’ve already paid. But Dustin Hoffman is one of those factors. I find the man, who should have won an Oscar for Tootsie, so entertaining and oddly cute that I have sat through a good ten minutes of Ishtar. That’s dedication.
Thus, when I found out that Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, was coming to theatres, I knew I had to see it. I did not need to know that it was yet another sweet tale of elderly Brits finding/renewing love (See my review of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) or that Maggie Smith was the star, or that this film would be more in line with the likes of Last Chance Harvey than Meet the Fockers. That is, funny. Heartwarming. Lovely. In a word? Good. But I am quite relieved I didn’t have to sit through anything remotely like Little Fockers.
Smith is Jean Horton, the newest resident at Beechum House, a retirement home for musicians past their prime. In her heyday, she was a soloist and diva and, before that, she was the singing partner to three of the residents, including her former husband. There’s Billy Connolly as Wilf, the lecher with a twinkle in his eye, Pauline Collins as sweet, gentle, spacey Cissy, and Tom Courtenay as Horton’s ex, who holds an intense grudge against the woman we all know he still loves. As if there was not enough drama inherent in Jean’s arrival, Beechum House is in trouble, and only if it’s annual Verdi-inspired fundraiser is a success will it be able to remain open, which of course necessitates the reunion of the quartet. And since Jean refuses to sing ever again and Cissy has difficulty remembering where she is, there will be plenty of conflict to make us wonder if the show will go on.
It’s almost embarrassingly predictable, as story lines go, but Quartet is so delightful, beautiful, and full of talent that one hardly cares. In addition to a lead cast made up of more British greats than any of the Harry Potter films, Beechum House is filled with real life British musical greats. In every room are jazz trumpeters, celebrated sopranos, classically trained violinists who can still shine in spite of old age and arthritis. They are all awe-inspiring. There’s even Michael Gambon in a delightful turn as the benefit’s haughty organizer. And the leads are all so talented that they transcend any cliché one could expect from the sex-crazed geezer or the aging diva or flighty old ditz. They are, instead, well-fleshed out characters for whom one cannot help but care.
Quartet may not be very novel or particularly innovative and, no, there was not a director’s cameo. But it’s unabashedly pleasant. And what more could one ask of a Saturday afternoon matinée?
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