Quartet has become the surprising tool of political debate in the United Kingdom over the past month. Because of recent events that are really too dull to get into, the status of the senior members of our society has been put under the political microscope, and Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut is being used to illustrate that OAPs can live the closing years of their lives with vitality. This has probably come as a big surprise for the film makers, considering that Quartet is nothing but a gentle slice of fluff.
It’s all really come down to timing. First of all, politics have changed the context surrounding the film’s release. But second of all, Hoffman’s life affirming debut is just the latest in a wave of retiree films. In 2012 the joyous The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel became a surprise hit when retirees started flocking to the cinema to watch Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy growing old disgracefully in India. Hollywood figures there can only be two possible explanations for this; either the older generation are rediscovering cinema through films that appeal to them, or they’ve been going to the cinema all along and nobody noticed. It seems like a little bit of both.
The plot is certainly something that will resonate with the older generation. British treasure Maggie Smith plays Jean, a diva who reluctantly arrives at a retirement home especially for senior musicians. They’re planning an annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. It’s a concert that could save the retirement home from closure, so the rest of the residents try their best to convince the grumpy Jean to take part. To make matters worse, one of the residents, Reginald (Tom Courtenay), was briefly married to Jean before she cheated on him hours after taking their vows.
It’s the relationship between Jean and Reginald that takes centre stage. Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay bring a lot of heart to their story of reconciliation, but there are points that test the audience’s patience a little. For example the conclusion of the film, which goes exactly the way you would expect it to, or rather the way you hoped it wouldn’t. It probably will go down as one of the corniest moments in cinema this year, and for the people who are not too forgiving for things like that, it may cause the stomach to turn a little.
This occurs mainly because of the honesty on Dustin Hoffman’s part. He knows he’s making a light and fluffy film, so makes no attempt to have it masquerading as something else. The only downside is that because Hoffman keeps things rather traditional, there is a serious lack of memorable moments, apart from a narrative issue that involves someone having what presumably is a stroke, and making a very quick recovery to be in the concert. Billy Connolly certainly brings in some laughs as Wilf, one of the residents. You can tell Connolly is having a good time making this film.
Pretty much the same can be said about the entire cast. Considering this is a film about the pressure of performance, the cast seem to be taking it easy. Perhaps this is down to the directing style of Dustin Hoffman, a man who has had more than his fair share of acting experience. He of course will know how to direct actors, and indeed cast them perfectly. That’s certainly one thing you can’t fault about Quartet – it does have a cast of actors that are perfect for their roles.
That is rather fortunate, because for the most part, the plot stumbles along a little. The characters are very genuine, and Dustin Hoffman deserves a lot of credit for making them so, but the plot has more in common with an early afternoon TV movie than anything cinematic. But it’s incredible light hearted charm will win a lot of people over, especially people of a certain age group. It still could have been smoother and funnier; a problem which could have been fixed with a few exotic marigolds.
Image reproduced from digitalspy.co.uk
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