|Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith as Reggie and Jean,|
estranged former lovers, in QUARTET.
Dustin Hoffman's directorial début is an hilarious romantic comedy set in a nursing home for classical musicians, based on the play by Ronald Harwood (THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY). The joyful good humour and colourful characters more than compensate for the rather predictable plot, the weak middle section, and the rather cowardly finale.
All romantic comedies need a sense of peril that must be resolved and an obstacle to true love. In this movie, the peril is the possibility that the rather luxurious nursing home will be closed if enough money cannot be raised at a benefit gala where the former stars take to the stage. This problem will be solved if new arrival Jean (Dame Maggie Smith) agrees to sing, and ignores the fears that she will damage her glittering reputation. The obstacle to true love is that Jean's cuckolded ex husband Reggie (Tom Courtenay) is also a resident in the home - they are both hurting and must be brought together by the offices of the loveable rogue Wilf (Billy Connolly) and the lovably ditzy Cecily (Pauline Collins).
The movie drips with good will and good humour. To be sure, some of that humour is the rather simplistic kind - the joy of seeing well-bred old-people swearing like troopers. But most of it is more subtle - poking fun at the egotism of celebrities and the stereotypes about the soloists versus the chorus and directors stealing ideas and being impossible (Michael Gambon in a brilliantly funny supporting role). The problem is that we are never in any serious doubt that Jean will agree to sing, recreating the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto that the four singers recorded in their heyday - and there is never any doubt that Jean and Reggie will be reunited.
|Sheridan Smith, Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay, Dustin Hoffman, and real-life opera star, Dame Gwyneth Jones|
And while the movie drips with humanity - sympathising with people who are patronised and put on the shelf and forever regretting their former life - it does not have the gritty profundity of the movie to which it will inevitably be compared, THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. That film tackled racism, homophobia and failed marriages - by contrast, this is a much sweeter, lighter confection. My final gripe is that while I quite understand why Dustin Hoffman did not want to risk showing his actors lip syncing to opera, I did feel rather cheated of not seeing some kind of performance at the end.
QUARTET played Toronto and London 2012 and will be released in New Zealand on Dec 20; in Australia on Dec 26; in the USA on Dec 28; in the UK on Jan 4; in Germany on Jan 24 and in the Netherlands on Jan 31. The running time is 90 minutes.