Billy Connolly, Dame Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon star in this comedy about a retired group of opera singers who put on a fund-raising concert to keep their home running. This is the directorial debut of screen legend Dustin Hoffman. In cinemas Boxing Day.
If you can accept the idea of a rest home for retired musicians, you won’t question whether their partners, presumably not all of whom are musical, would live out their golden years. You might also resist wondering why Dustin Hoffman, an actor in his prime in the '80s and '90s, would highlight this fact, choosing a film about ageing as his directorial debut.
Still, this breezy, whimsical dramedy is a well-executed exploration of a simple idea – that even stars aren’t immune to deteriorating memories, failing co-ordination and irritability. (And yes, it features real retired musicians.)
Much like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet is a light, warm-fuzzies affair with mostly endearing performances from its star cast, even if Billy Connolly’s pervy old man act soon becomes wearying. It’s a wonder he doesn’t try to hump the closest cello. Like Marigold, the film revolves around a love story, or rather, the unfinished business of one between Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay’s characters. Smith is reliably authentic in her role as the uptight former diva who refuses to join her friends’ performance at the home’s annual gala, as is the all-star line-up of fellow retirees, including Andrew Sachs, Trevor Peacock and Michael Gambon. But it’s Pauline Collins as the naive and optimistic Cissy who steals the show.
For a film about four opera stars, whose genre of music is the most emotional, heightened, extreme and visceral, arguably, of them all, Quartet’s third act simpers in comparison. The foursome’s final curtain is an extended affair, lacking tension and more concerned with reaching a happy ending. But in a film about old age, perhaps that’s the best ending you could hope for.