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QUARTET – The Review

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If you’re looking for something gently humorous, and entirely unchallenging to take your elderly parents or grandparents to, QUARTET should fit the bill. And that’s exactly what you’ll get; an amiable bore full of underplayed drama and mildly spirited comedy. If the idea of film set in a retirement home for elderly musicians sounds like a drag, don’t bother, but for those who have an affinity for lighthearted, predictable productions featuring some of the best actors working in the U.K., there may be just enough to QUARTET to recommend.

Based on the 1999 play by Ronald Harwood and directed by Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman, QUARTET  is entirely set at Beecham House, named after Sir Thomas Beecham, a famously oddball British conductor. It’s a picturesque rural mansion that serves as a dwelling for over-the-hill orchestra and operatic performers who wish to spend their final years in relative comfort and like-minded companionship. The story centers on three residents – old friends who performed together decades earlier. The outspoken Wilf (Billy Connolly) uses the excuse of a recent stroke to make constant sexual advances to the home’s female residents and attractive house doctor (Sheridan Smith). Wilf’s best friend is Reginald (Tom Courtenay), a quiet and composed man who enjoys teaching ‘introduction to opera’ classes to underprivileged teens. The third friend is Cissy (Pauline Collins), a charmingly dizzy broad who used to perform with the two men. Their friendship is challenged with the arrival of Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), a down-on-her-luck prima donna in need of hip-replacement surgery who also once performed with the trio but whose brief marriage to Reginald—which ended with her infidelity—has left him bitter and hurt. While much of QUARTET is devoted to their gradual reconciliation, the residents are focused on the annual Beecham House fund-raising concert at which they perform for wealthy patrons. The concert is prepared by the dictatorial, bombastic Cedric (Michael Gambon), who has the bright idea of having Jean perform a famous quartet from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” on stage with Wilf, Reginald and Cissy. But Jean, worried that her voice is failing, refuses and it’s up to the others to convince her that the show must go on. QUARTET climaxes with in the big night as the four principals struggle to overcome their differences and pull off a successful performance.

QUARTET is one of those pleasant, inoffensive British movies that offer a passably entertaining 95 minutes without providing material that could be construed as edgy or stimulating. First-time director Hoffman’s direction shows no unique personal style but he presents a mildly amusing tale that goes exactly where you want it to. It’s  filled with the sort of slightly naughty banter designed to make the over-sixty crowd chuckle and is highlighted by excellent performance from an ensemble of top-notch British actors who bring professionalism to the leisurely story. As the token old horny guy, Connolly offers QUARTET what energy it has, constantly moaning about his enlarged prostate and working his mischief.  Tom Courtenay gets the film’s best-written scene, one where he’s enlightened by some teen students connecting opera to hip-hop. Smith does a nice job with a complex character while Collins offers a tender, funny portrayal as Cissy, who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s. Hoffman populates QUARTET with a collection of older faces, whether they’re performing music or acting as extras. Many are older classical musicians and stage actors who get nice shout outs during the closing credits along with black-and-white stills of their younger selves performing. The geriatric genre targets an audience that gets barely catered to against the loud squeals of blockbusters put on through most of the year but, like last year’s THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, QUARTET may connect and could be a modest hit.

3 of 5 Stars

 QUARTET is currently playing at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Theater

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