Title: Quartet

The Weinstein Company

Director: Dustin Hoffman

Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood (play and screenplay)

Cast: Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Sheridan Smith, Andrew Sachs

Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/17/12

Opens: December 28, 2012

If people under the age of thirty largely ignore “Quartet,” seeing only those films that somehow appear to reflect their vampiric(?) lives like “The Twilight Saga,” they will be missing a picture reflecting great humanity and rollicking comedy. And they’ll miss out seeing what life will be like for them in forty or fifty years—if they’re lucky. “Quartet” joins this year’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in the subgenre of comedies about people of a certain age. Though the latter is considerably more than a light comedy, reflecting the views of the older generation of Westerners in India such as their racism and anti-Gay attitudes, “Quartet” is a confection that elevates itself above others of that classification by being about opera. If “Not Fade Away” is the film that this year best exploits popular music in its soundtrack, then “Quartet” excels as an instrument of favorite arias—the chief one being, predictably enough, “La donna è mobile” (“woman is fickle”) from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

That’s not the only predictable concept in the movie, which features Dustin Hoffman in his freshman role as director. One is the idea that in a romantic comedy, two people who have raised barriers to their intimacy will get together in the end. The other, in this case, is that a literal prima donna must be convinced to perform at a gala annual concert in order to raise enough money for residents to continue their lives in a posh retirement home.

With Bill Connolly as Wilf, serving as the community’s dirty old man and equally fine as the funniest member thereof, the residents of the home, all over the age of sixty-five and well-served by Dr. Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith), spend days not in playing bingo but in rehearsing on the instruments that made them famous in their heydays. Some sing, like three older women who had played together in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” one man who plays clarinet, one on trumpet, a pianist who gives lessons to the young, and Cedric (Michael Gambon), a former director of opera who in rehearsing his group for the upcoming gala event is the most boastful. Cissy (Pauline Collins), a former singer, has dementia, but tries her best to befriend Jean (Maggie Smith), the latter (by Jean’s modest admission) having been according no fewer than twelve curtain calls during her performances decades back. Jean, who was once married to resident Reggie (Tom Courtenay) for nine hours, is still shunned by him for having revealed an affair which took place during their courtship. Will they get together by the conclusion of the picture? Duh.

“Quartet” has its sentimental moments but does not patronize the elderly folks. Instead we see these people as still remaining vital, singing and playing to a crowd of moneyed men and women in the audience as though they had not aged a day over forty. For the singing, the glorious music, the good humor, “Quartet” is a foursome that should not be missed. Here that, moviegoers under thirty?

Unrated. 98 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+

Acting – B+

Technical – B+

Overall – B+


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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