STARRING Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon DIRECTED BY Dustin Hoffman SCREENPLAY Ronald Harwood MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 98 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY The Weinstein Company
"Quartet" a Warm and Witty Directorial Debut From Dustin Hoffman
It's a testimony to Dustin Hoffman's greatness as an actor that he so delightfully and warmly directs Quartet, an actor's film filled with warmth and wit and intelligence and genuine emotion that would be a surprise if not for the fact that this is British cinema we're talking about and not the usual Hollywood tripe and trumped up emotions.
Quartet is a small film with British actors bringing their A-game to an intimate yet universal story that will resonate most assuredly with anyone who has ever experienced the world of the arts. The film centers around Cissy (Pauline Collins), Reggie (Tom Courtenay) and Wilfred (Billy Connolly), three residents of a home for retired opera singers. Every year, there is a concert on October 10th to celebrate Verdi's birthday and to raise the required funds to keep the home open. Unexpectedly, Reggie's former spouse Jean (Maggie Smith) arrives at the home and everything falls out of balance. She still acts like a diva, but refuses to join in.
The show must go on.
Quartet is the kind of film that those of us with a stage background, this critic included, tend to enjoy. It's a film of poetic beauty with language that demands you listen and characters who are richly developed and vividly brought to life. It's a film that doesn't bother itself with special effects or unnecessary distractions, instead Hoffman trusts the story and the ability of these actors to bring it to life.
The film has been adapted from the stage by its playwright, Ronald Harwood. A good adaptation from stage makes you want to run out and see the theatrical production, and that was very much my experience with Quartet. The film, which is as much about aging as is Amour and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, embraces its community and with an authenticity that seems awfully rare in movies these days.
I must confess that I can't imagine a facility like the British manor in this film actually existing anywhere, certainly not in the United States. This facility is extraordinarily furnished and staffed, and one could only hope that our elders would actually be treated this kindly and respectfully as they age. The "tension," and I use that term rather lightly, comes when the star of the show is forced to withdraw and the show's director, Cedric (Michael Gambon), becomes determined to get this uneasy quartet of egos, actors and delightful voices to reunite for "Rigoletto" and to save their beloved Beecham House.
There is never a doubt, of course, of how exactly all of this is going to end. The joy of Quartet is in how Hoffman's disciplined directorial approach gives room for these actors to breathe and bring these characters and this story to life in such a way that the journey is worth it even if you know exactly where everything is going.
Quartet, which is currently in a limited arthouse run across the nation with distrib The Weinstein Company, was given an early awards season push before it seemed like everyone already knew that Amour and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel were destined to get all of the attention.
That's a shame, really, because while this may not quite be an Oscar-worthy film it is a film that deserves attention and it's certainly a fine directorial debut from Hoffman. Despite its lack of awards season recognition, one can only hope that American moviegoers give the film a chance.