Quartet like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those rare films aimed primarily at audiences aged over 60. Unfortunately this film has neither the astute eye for character nor the clever, endearing script of Marigold.
As a very British film with no American cast members, Quartet is a surprising directorial debut for Dustin Hoffman. Set in an opulent retirement home for elderly musicians, the film centres on the emotionally fraught reunion of former opera singers and divorced husband and wife Reginald (Tom Courtenay) and Jean (Maggie Smith). An act of marital infidelity decades ago drove them apart and meeting up again ruptures the calm of Reg’s comfortable life.
With its stellar cast which includes a typically cheeky Bill Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon this should have been a high quality comedy-drama. It’s pleasant enough and occasionally funny, particularly when Michael Gambon’s ego gets out of control but it’s disappointingly familiar and lightweight.
Based on the stage play by Ronald Harwood, who also wrote the screenplay, the film doesn’t always translate well to the big screen. There’s a problem with the rhythm of the dialogue as voices overlap awkwardly which deprives many lines of their intended sting. Also, Hoffman’s camera just seems to amble about the lush grounds of the retirement mansion giving us mostly uninspired vistas of the residents’ life. Story threads also trail off including one seemingly vital storyline involving Billy Connolly’s physical condition. Another surprising issue is that up until the final impressive gala performance which celebrates Verdi’s birthday, the music is mostly scratchy and uninspired.
Still, there are some memorable moments, real life opera legend Dame Gweneth Jones produces a stunning performance at the Gala, while Maggie Smith is her usual highly entertaining acerbic self. Billy Connolly is also typically likeable as the roguish, oversexed Wilf.
This is a subdued and oddly fragmented film but it does at times touch poignantly on the issues that ageing inevitably forces us to face.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Director(s): Dustin Hoffman
Release date: 26th Dec 2012
Running time: 98 mins.
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