‘Quartet’ marks the directing debut of Dustin Hoffman, who is now five years shy of 80, and the two make a great pairing, just like a good wine and cheese. Hoffman took his cues from Ronald Harwood’s play and from an ’80s documentary that showcased a retirement home for famous musicians and singers. With its stellar cast, charming characters, witty dialogue and amazing music ranging from “The Mikado” to the “Rigoletto,” ‘Quartet’ is not to be missed.
The cast is mostly made up of actual musicians and singers, with the help of a few veteran actors. This story of aging and music should play not only to older audiences, but to younger ones as well. The film takes place at the luxurious Beecham House in the beautiful countryside of England, which looks like it’s from a fairy tale, from its lavish rooms and fabrics to the many gazebos, ponds and trails throughout the entire place. Hell, I’d want to live there. Here, music is life. Its residents who are all above 75 spend their days and nights playing music and singing. You see, this is a retirement center for famous opera singers and musicians, including a famous tenor named Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), who still sings and teaches a class on opera to young kids every week. He mixes in rap to keep his young audience listening, and can even be found listening to various rap songs in his room alone.
As Hoffman’s camera moves through the fancy house, we meet Sissy (Pauline Collins), a forgetful yet lovable singer who tries to make everybody’s day brighter. Then there’s Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly), who was once a singer, but now roams the hallways cracking jokes and trying to get laid whenever he can, without success. These two characters are so genuine and funny that you can’t help but fall instantly in love with them.
A bit of excitement fills the Beecham House as the annual Verdi Gala is coming up, where most of the fund-raising for the year is held to keep the home open and functioning. This is also where all of the tenants of the home get to put on their fancy dresses, and get in full costume and make-up to put on a show, just like they did when they were younger, all under the direction of Cedric (Michael Gambon), who might be the biggest diva in the room. In another bit of anticipation, everyone in the house knows that a new tenant will be staying with them, and the rumor is that it’s a big star.
Well, that star finally arrives and it’s s the famed opera singer Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), who is reluctant at first to talk with her former colleagues or participate in any programs, let alone lunch or dinner. It’s also much to Reginald’s dismay that Jean is there, as they were once married, but divorced due to Jean having an affair. However, as they say, the show must go on, and Cedric wants the original quartet to sing the “Rigoletto” once more for the Gala. Everybody has agreed with the exception of Jean, and the other three hope they can convince her in time before the Gala to perform once again.
Hoffman doesn’t mess with the usual type of stories in tales about retirement homes. The film has no talk of the tenants being sad about family members not visiting. Everything is about the music here and is on a light note, which I loved. As for the performances, Smith and Courtenay are phenomenal. They both prove that they still have what it takes to captivate an entire audience. When they first see each other for the first time in many years, you can see the heartache in their eyes and mannerisms. Connolly is the most light-hearted and funniest of the characters in the film. He takes everything in stride and steals the show. Hoffman’s direction is mostly by-the-book, but he captures each performance with grace. Be sure to stay for the end credits sequence, as it shows the actors paired with an old photo of themselves in their youthful prime. I can’t wait to see this again.