|REVIEWS - Film Reviews|
|Written by Erin Sneath|
|Friday, 15 February 2013 18:36|
"In any fiction format, the weaker the obstacles, the weaker the character, which is unfortunate because the entire cast is fantastic."
Principle Cast: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins
Release Date: January 1, 2013
Director: Dustin Hoffman
Distributer: BBC Films
Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, Quartet, is the film adaptation of a stage play by Ronald Harwood. It centres around a group of four opera singers at Beecham House an in-fiction retirement home for musicians. Actually, it is difficult to call most of the residence retired, other than professionally, since they seem to spend the majority of their time making and teaching music. Maggie Smith plays Jean Horton, the newest resident of the home and a soprano who has actually stopped singing altogether since her voice started ageing. Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins play Wilf and Cissy, friends of hers from their days performing together in operas. Tom Courtenay plays Reg Paget, an ex-love of Jean's, who tries his best to avoid her after years of separation.
The residents organize and perform a gala concert together as a fundraiser to keep their beloved home from closing. The premise is perhaps a callback to all those old movie musicals about teens and young adults putting on shows to save their school or rec centre. The four friends have been asked to perform the famous quartet from Rigoletto, a piece that earned them stardom together when they were younger. Jean doesn't want to sing. Most of the drama revolves around the other three trying to convince her, while she tries to convince Reg to forgive her for breaking his heart.
The scenes are beautifully acted and the dialogue is pretty good. Despite the emotional and personal the conflicts get in this story, it becomes obvious too early that the stubborn characters really want to be convinced and give in, and that the characters will soon get along once everyone has explained why they feel how they feel. In effect, there is very little in the way of real tension. The story becomes less about people trying to reconcile their dreams of musical and relationship perfection with the realities of ageing, and more about how the elderly can defy our expectations by maintaining their talents and by continuing to chase love.
The music within the film is as integral as the dialogue. One gets the impression that the original play must have been, perhaps not a musical but part concert in its own right, like the Canadian comedy play Two Pianos Four Hands. Most of the actors, even the minor roles and extras, were (and still are) successful musicians. During the credits, each cast member is shown beside a picture of them working when they were younger. In almost every scene, someone is practising music somewhere, whether in one of the multiple music rooms, their own suites, or outside in the gardens. The music becomes as much a way for them to communicate as speech.
Beecham House seems the ideal place to retire, if it existed. The residents' ailments never seem to inconvenience them for long. It almost makes one wonder why some of them live there at all and not in their own houses. Connolly's Wilf suffered from a stroke long before the story began but it only served to remove his ability to censor himself. Since Wilf is a positive and friendly man, the stroke makes him an incorrigible flirt. Cissy can overcome her occasional bouts of senility by going through her purse and examining her possessions. Not that any of those outcomes are unrealistic, but none of the characters seem to have much to worry about. In any fiction format, the weaker the obstacles, the weaker the character, which is unfortunate because the entire cast is fantastic.
Despite its flaws, Quartet is entertaining, worth eventually renting and watching with dinner and some nice wine. Besides being past their so-called prime, the characters' lives, loves, and enthusiasm for music proves the old theatre adage “the show must go on.”