Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie with Abe: Quartet

Directed by Dustin Hoffman
Released December 7, 2012

Earlier this year, John Madden’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” gathered together a handful of esteemed older British actors to play disgruntled retirees heading to India to spend their later years. Now, American actor Dustin Hoffman steps behind the camera for the first time to adapt the play by Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Pianist” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” A trip to India may sound magical, but visiting colorful characters in a retirement home for musicians is a true delight, and a winning combination of laughs and drama in this terrific comedy.

Maggie Smith is the other connective link between the two British senior citizen-centric films of the year, appearing as a crotchety loner in “Marigold” and in this movie as Jean, a newly arrived resident less than eager to perform again. Smith is far more likeable in this role, appearing snobbish at first but quickly showing Jean to be kindhearted and generous despite her firm belief that she should be seen more highly than anyone else when it comes to her art form. By the time that Smith, who was singled out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for a Golden Globe nomination, joins the film’s events, the rest of its cast has already established a marvelous musical community.

“Quartet” gathers together for its title grouping a fantastic foursome. Two-time Oscar nominee Tom Courtenay takes the serious part of Reggie, a slightly younger resident who teaches young students about opera and used to be married to Jean. His sentimental performance, coupled with Smith’s, is well balanced out by two lovely humorous turns, from Billy Connolly as the ever-flirtatious Wilf and Pauline Collins as Cissy, who has a sweet heart and a deteriorating memory. Watching the four of them interact is a blissful, extremely entertaining endeavor. The cast is enhanced by Michael Gambon as Cedric, the hilariously dictatorial director of the home’s annual concert, and one of the youngest members of the ensemble, Sheridan Smith, as the home’s very pleasant director, Dr. Lucy Cogan.

A tremendously talented cast contributes to an equally charming story, with some knockout musical performances along the way. In many ways, it’s a familiar tale in an unusual setting, following opera singers into a time way past their prime when they still love to engage in their beloved art, unable to avoid other human interactions along the way. Following these characters into old age is a magnificent treat. Hoffman’s first effort behind the camera is a roaring success, and this is easily one of the year’s best and most consistent dramatic comedies.


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