Four voices are better than one – Quartet review

Quartet – Starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, and Billy Connolly. Directed by Dustin Hoffman. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

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Hot on the heels of the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel comes Quartet, another Maggie Smith-led movie about the twilight years. Sure to draw in a more mature crowd, there’s plenty to enjoy for the young at heart though perhaps not so much for the actual young. Marking Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet takes place in Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians. The residents are excitedly preparing for their annual concert – to celebrate Verdi’s birthday and to raise funds and keep the home alive – when rumours about a new high-profile patron begin to swarm.

Three parts of a long-expired quartet – Reginald “Reggie” Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly), and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) – now reside at the home and are shocked to learn their fourth member, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), who left them for a successful solo career, will be joining them. To complicate matters more, Jean and Reggie were once married – albeit for nine hours – before Jean cheated on him, ending the marriage and the foursome’s friendship. Her re-emergence in their life is prime fodder for a series of awkward and funny rendezvous.

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Quartet is an undemanding picture that skims over the issues of ageing and presents an idealistic vision of retirement; one that that involves plenty of croquet and tea. Issues of loneliness, regret, and mental decline are mostly dealt with in humorous ways, and perhaps rightly so. Hoffman, working from a script by Ronald Harwood (based on his play of the same name), is more concerned with entertaining his audience than delivering them a heartfelt message about growing older and facing your maker. Unfortunately, by trading this in for sentimentality and singing, the film rarely soars and instead of touching its audience, merely exists.

There’s no denying the cast here is excellent, although Connolly essentially plays himself. Hoffman has made a fine first flick at the ripe age of 75, with the overall result being a classy and respectful drama about old friends reuniting and healing old wounds. There’s a much needed level of optimism and escapism here for those facing similar challenges, and a plethora of delightful renditions and cameos for the classical music enthusiasts. Quartet is a respectful genre piece that doesn’t colour outside the lines and instead lets the performances and dialogue shine, offering little wisdom but plenty of wit.

3/5

Quartet arrives in Australian cinemas December 26, 2012.

One Response to “Four voices are better than one – Quartet review”

  1. This is a gloriously human movie. I took my mum to see it… Se was a lovely soprano in her day and her mother was a concert pianist… Neither of us wanted it to end…. The actors were superb in their roles. Loved it!

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