Acclaimed actor Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with the charming, but entirely predictable Quartet. The film takes place at Beecham House, a retirement community of aged opera singers and classical musicians nestled in the English countryside. Every year they have a gala that celebrates the birthday of Verdi, where the residents perform to keep their beloved home funded by wealthy contributors. This event is thrown into a bit of chaos with the arrival of Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), a bitter diva who's star has long faded. Her ex-husband Reginald (Tom Courtenay) is particularly dismayed to have Jean toss a wrench into his quiet retirement. This sentiment is not shared by Wilf, a sly charmer played brilliantly by Billy Connolly, and Cissy (Pauline Collins), a gracious and lovely woman slipping into dementia. They believe that Jean's addition is the final piece needed to resurrect their famous quartet, which achieved stardom by performing Verdi's classic opera, Rigaletto.
There's a lot to like about Quartet. Dustin Hoffman shows great restraint as a director. He lets the actors and subtleties of the script pace the film. Ronnie Harwood's script, based on his play, is a character study of elderly artists coming to their end, with a last shot at a great performance. The ensemble quartet is the English all star team of great actors. They carry this film, but Billy Connolly steals the show as the charismatic dirty old man. He adds humor and liveliness whenever the story becomes too melancholy. The supporting roles are populated by famous musicians and opera singers that make Quartet a quasi-musical. Every scene has a background where someone is singing or playing their instrument. It paints Beecham House as a truly fantastic place to spend your last years.
My primary issue with Quartet is the predictability of the story. There's really no angst here. Harwood's script lays the groundwork for serious drama, but it never develops. The tension between Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay starts off as promising, but is quickly resolved and ultimately saccharine. Beecham House is treated like a character, but becomes too whimsical in its portrayal of a retirement home. It becomes like a wonderland for retirees. Everything is picturesque, the staff is doting and benevolent, how can anyone, even the curmudgeonly Jean, have any issues whatsoever spending their twilight years in such a place? I'd move into Beecham House in a heartbeat than live in my crappy studio apartment.
Quartet is a like a cup of warm tea. It's enjoyable, but ultimately nothing remarkable and quickly forgotten. Hoffman shows a light touch as a director with the subject matter and classically trained cast. I like this effort, but look forward to his take on grittier material. Fans of opera and classical music will like Quartet much more than the average audience. Quartet is definitely a happier take on the golden years as opposed to Michael Haneke's Amour.