Movie Review: "Quartet"
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: January 11, 2013
Directed by: Dustin Hoffman
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
Films that revolve around characters in their senior years tend to either place them in the roles of old coots, curmudgeons, or wise but crazy advisors. "Quartet" gives viewers a wonderful sense of life in the later years without becoming mired in morose topics of death and dying or making fun of its subject material. This element helps the film rise above many modern pictures that focus on the elderly but fail to capture the nuances of life in the golden years. "Quartet" creates a subgenre of its own by tackling sensitive issues related to aging with a sense of elegance and wonder.
"Quartet" brings moviegoers into the lives of a group of retired opera singers who get together annually to celebrate the birthday of the acclaimed Italian composer Verdi. This year, the gathering is interrupted by the appearance of operatic diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), who was previously married to a member of the core group. The core group of senior opera singers includes Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly), and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins). Wilf, Reggie and Cissy are old friends. They hold little love for Jean after her breakup with Reggie. The movie focuses on the interactions between the members of the group as they prepare a fundraising event for the Verdi celebration, bringing moviegoers in on the excitement and elegance of the troupe along with the budding rivalry between Jean and the home's resident diva, Anne Langley (Dame Gwyneth Jones).
The acting in "Quartet" includes believable portrayals from the cast throughout. Smith is a true virtuoso in the role of a diva, bringing all the grace and elegance one would expect from a life-long operatic star to her performance. Courtenay and Connolly play off one another in a style akin to the "Odd Couple" or "Grumpy Old Men," which remain hallmarks of films involving elderly gentlemen. Collins creates a beautiful character who appears to be slowly losing her grip on reality due to senility or dementia even as she descends into her own world removed from the others. Dame Gwyneth Jones steals the scene with her excellent delivery of the constantly terse interactions and often-hilarious prods at her rival.
The film's cinematography captures the sweeping grandeur of the home and its ballroom theatrical styles very nicely. A few transitions seem a bit out of place, however, but do not detract greatly from the piece as a whole. None of these transitions are likely to jar moviegoers out of an otherwise enjoyable experience. The lighting elements are by and large spot-on, without any noticeable flaws. The camera angles adroitly capture the many telling expressions and minor details that make the grandiose scenes really stand out.
"Quartet" relies heavily on witty dialogue and fun interactions between the residents of the home and the newcomer, Jean. The writing of the piece does a great job of delivering this in spades, though some of the more humorous elements seem a bit forced at times. Those who are seeking a laugh-out-loud comedy for the evening may not appreciate the more subtle nuances of wit employed throughout the piece, but the writing is solid overall. The script flows very nicely throughout the film, save for a few moments where the conversation seems slightly too short for the length of the scene itself. Fortunately, the few hiccups do not detract from the film as a whole.
Dustin Hoffman has conquered numerous aspects of the silver screen, and his love of operatic performances and over-the-top characters shines through in his direction of "Quartet." He brings out the best in the veteran cast of actors. The precise interactions between the key players is likely due as much to Hoffman's skilled direction as the skill of his performers. The movie maintains a great pace, flowing as smoothly as the best operas from scene to scene. The skilled combination of comedic and dramatic elements may well set a bar for other films to strive for in the future.
"Quartet" blends drama and comedy into an elegant piece that is sure to find fans of all ages. Younger viewers may not get many of the jokes that are aimed at an obviously older audience, however. The piece is a perfect choice for a family evening or a night out with older friends and acquaintances. It is likely to find a home on the shelves of those who like the heady comedies of the early days of Hollywood or enjoy movies that manage to beautifully deliver a sense of wonder and style that persists into the golden years of life.