Quartet (2012) (PG-13)

Dustin Hoffman's official directorial debut has no great story telling ability that rivals his contemporaries; yet he crafts an intimate portrait of aging and love that is quite unexpectedly potent.
"Quartet" is set in Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians. The elderly here live and breathe music—it's their purpose. Music is in the air from the very beginning of the movie until the final frame. Jokes, puns, comments, and simple conversations are woven around composers and famous singers.
In honor of Verdi's birthday, (for those who don't know, Giuseppe Verdi was one of the most famous operatic composers, most known for Rigoletto—an opera that is mentioned several times in the movie) Beecham House is throwing a gala.
We meet Wilf (Billy Connolly) who is basically an old pervert, but he's likable enough that we don't care. In a conversation with his friend, he mentions the statistic that men think about sex every seven seconds. Then he says, "I wish it were only every seven seconds."
Wilf is friends with Reginald (Tom Courtenay) and Cissy (Pauline Collins), both aging opera singers. Reginald is possibly the most sane of any character in "Quartet", he has aged very gracefully. Cissy, on the other hand, has random moments of insanity and forgetfulness. She is quite high-energy and always has to have her bag with her.
Cedric (Michael Gambon) is the man who is trying to organize the gala. Gambon is dressed similarly to his role as Dumbledore, though he's much less likable in "Quartet".
The gala will hopefully raise enough money for Beecham House to stay in business another year; but with people dropping out, things aren't looking too great.
But then, Beecham House gets another resident, the great opera singer Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). She is a selfish woman, though she tries to come across as cordial. A little pious and on the verge of dementia, Jean is a vibrant character. Maggie Smith does such a wonderful job, as per usual, and this role earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
No body tells Reginald of Jean's arrival and it shocks him when she shows up—they were lovers at one point and he is still bitter about it.
Tempers flair when Jean waltzes into Beecham House. Cissy, lovingly naive, is happy to have a new friend; but Reginald is quite irate about the rude awakening.
Wilf is a Yoda type character. When he speaks to his friends, he has the most sense; though mess sentences up, he doesn't.
Reginald is a very likable guy, he teaches young musicians about opera. One scene shows a tender lecture between his students and him—they are discussing rap versus opera. Reginald's little knowledge of rap leads him to supposing that rap and opera aren't that different. The students laugh at first, but he continues. In opera, when you are stabbed in the back, you sing. In rap, when you are stabbed in the back, you talk. That's Reginald's argument and the students talk to him about it—everyone gradually begins to respect the other's music. It sounds corny, but it's actually a very touching scene.
Beecham House is full of actors who are aging musicians. For the movie, Hoffman used aging opera singer, cellists, clarinet players, Shakespearean actors, etc.
"Quartet" is a project of love that took coordination and precision; but the fact that you can't escape is how close it feels to you. All these actors seem to have bonded over the time the film was shot. It's like watching a family reunion, sometimes not pleasant but full of emotion.
"Quartet" is based off of the stage play by Ronald Harwood.
The movie has a slow beginning, Billy Connolly is not as funny as he could be at first. Gradually, the audience comes to love him.
It's a well crafted movie, one that I enjoyed much more than I thought I would.
With a soundtrack of classical musicians and a cast that is almost unrivaled, "Quartet" is an easy success.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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