Quartet (2012) is a film which requires little effort, either on the part of the cast or the viewer. That’s not intended disparagingly, indeed quite the opposite, as everything about Hollywood icon Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, starring Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins, is sheer bliss – you just sit back, relax and let it wash over you.
Fading opera stars, Wilf (Connolly), Reginald (Courtenay) and Cissy (Collins), live in the rural splendor of a country retirement home, where they wile away the days reminiscing about their past triumphs. Each year they celebrate the birthday of the composer Verdi with a concert, and in the process raise funds for the upkeep of the home. This year however things don’t quite go to plan after the arrival of new resident. The presence of Jean (Smith), an opera diva with thoughts above her station, not only resurrects painful memories for the trio, but doesn’t exactly prove conducive to harmony amongst the other residents either.
What a relief that Hoffman, unlike so many actors who try their hand at directing, was not tempted into a cameo appearance in Quartet. Instead he remains, like all good directors should, out-of-sight, though not out of mind, as his touch is crystal clear on screen. Everything, from the ensemble cast to the pastoral settings, meld seamlessly under the expert guidance of a man who is so much a part of modern cinema in front of the camera, that looking at the action from the other side will probably have felt like second nature.
The wider cast hit all the right notes as the group of aging operatic and musical stars, unwilling to accept that, for the most, their moment in the limelight is long past. Indeed the only aspect of the film which appears slightly off-key is watching Connolly and Smith vie for prime spot. When they appear these two old troupers banish everyone else to the wings, no mean feat when you consider the calibre of the those they’re working with. However they’re such a delight to watch that you feel more than happy to indulge their quirks and idiosyncrasies.
This is really is the only quibble though in an otherwise perfect blend of dry wit and acid sharp timing which makes for a delightful cocktail of lasting friendships and the acceptance of the passing of time.
Quartet provides a marvelously feel good way with which to see in the new year. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait too long for Hoffman to flex his directorial muscle again. Oh, and wait until the end as there is a marvelous treat during the final credits which is guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye.