Hoffman hits right note with film

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QUARTET

DIRECTOR: Dustin Hoffman

CAST: Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay, Sheridan Smith

CLASSIFICATION: 10 PG L

Running Time: 98 minutes

RATING: ****

 

They’re coming fast and furious, movies dealing with ageing. It’s because of the baby boomers and it’s about time. As we age, as with many different things in life, many things crop up for which we are ill prepared. It helps if there’s as much talk as possible around all these topics – and if Dame Maggie Smith is along for the ride, we hardly need more.

Dustin Hoffman, directing his first movie (he walked off another when he was much younger) is 75 and he knew if he didn’t do it now, it wouldn’t happen.

Even someone as cynical as Michael Haneke is all over the Oscar nominations with his latest offering, Amour, dealing with the realities of old age and staring death in the face.

Hoffman has a gentler approach and his story Quartet began as a play by Ronald Harwood in which some of the dialogue has been adapted to suit the specific stars like Smith, Collins, Connolly and Courtenay. And why shouldn’t he tailor it when it’s such a star cast?

Like Marigold this one also gazes at ageing through rose-tinted spectacles, but the real fun is in the performances and the delightfulness of the story.

Beecham House is a retirement home (estate would be better description) for ageing musicians, but they’re running out of money and annually on Verdi’s birthday, they produce a show to collect funds.

The excitement is huge when one of their best arrives almost in time for the show. Played by Maggie Smith, this ageing diva refuses to sing. She’s not at her best anymore and quit a few years back, refusing to sing less powerfully than before. There’s the added pressure that a furious yet fearful ex-husband (Courtenay) is in the wings still mangled by their disastrous marriage so many years ago. And some competition in another diva who is happy to shatter glass with her still majestic voice any time, anywhere.

That’s really what the film is about: the performances. Everyone loves Maggie Smith and if you haven’t seen her latest Downton capers (series 3), tighten those seatbelts. On queue, she is yet again excellent as the frail yet fiery former singer who doesn’t want to blemish her star status.

Connolly plays the ageing rouge with his expected rakish flair; Collins perfectly pitches the heartache of a character losing her mind and Courtenay is spot on with his forlorn male stance.

Hoffman has a light touch when he selects the soundtrack which might bother serious music afficionados, but those of us who enjoy the familiar classical tunes drift merrily along. But for music lovers, here are some serious musicians in the cast because apart from the leads, all recognisable, most of the rest of the cast are former musicians so beautifully highlighted when the credits run at the close of the movie. So don’t leave before running through these, it adds to the magical quality of this fairytale.

Totally predictable and hardly ever dwelling on the worst signs of ageing, but in a nostalgic love-letter kind of way, it leaves those of us who move ever closer with a smile. And, of course, the fabulous fanfare of Maggie Smith and her cohorts.

That’s the perfect audience because a younger crowd will expect more fireworks and should hang tight for Haneke’s Amour. He’s not going to let you down so lightly.

If you liked… The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel… you will like this one.


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