Aging stars make beautiful music in feel-good ‘Quartet’
Updated: February 25, 2013 11:38AM
Recently, we’ve been offered two films with radically different viewpoints on aging — Michael Haneke’s grim, yet loving, “Amour,” and now, “Quartet,” the one that won’t leave you feeling hopelessly traumatized.
In fact, you’re likely to feel pretty good about the declining/golden years. Maybe a little too good, but why quibble?
“Quartet” is a light piece of work, but it’s meant to be that way, with just enough melancholy mixed in to keep it from turning to treacle. And Dustin Hoffman, in his directorial debut, along with an ideal cast, make that delicately balanced formula work to perfection.
The film opens at Beacham House, an improbably sumptuous English country estate that has been set up as a retirement home for classical musicians. It’s time for the annual gala concert honoring Verdi’s birthday, an event that has become necessary to keep the house running, and all the residents are in rehearsal mode, directed by the imperious Cedric (Michael Gambon). There’s a problem, though. The gala’s biggest draw, Beacham House’s most famous retired singer, has fallen ill. Who can they find to replace him?
“Bette Davis?” suggests the dotty yet delightful Cissy (Pauline Collins), whose effervescent eccentricity puts a brave face on rapidly approaching senility. Unfortunately, she’s not available, so the all-important concert appears to be doomed — until the arrival of another major star, just in the nick of time.
Jean (Maggie Smith) is a former internationally celebrated diva, now quite unhappy with her reduced financial circumstances, her painful memories and her bum hip. Furthermore, she has seriously strained relations with three of the house’s residents, who once comprised, with her, a world-famous quartet.
Cissy was one of the quartet, along with the over-the-hill Lothario Wilf (Billy Connelly) and the somewhat severe, thoroughly proper Reg (Sir Tom Courtenay) — who still nurses a broken heart after a brief marriage to Jean, who chose her career instead of love.
As you might expect, all of the featured performers are spot-on perfect, and Hoffman is savvy enough to make the performances the focus of “Quartet.” He doesn’t try anything flashy with the camera, but is content to allow his love for art and artists to shine through.
As a result, “Quartet” fairly glows even as it contends with the uncomfortable truth about its characters’ diminished capacities as they do — with reluctance and acceptance.
But not with despair and without accepting defeat. As a result, they — and the film — are ultimately triumphant.