Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Quartet (2012)

Quartet is a fine film based on the stage play by Ronald Harwood and directed with subtlety and restraint by Hollywood superstar Dustin Hoffman. The story is set in a beautiful English mansion that has been turned into a retirement home for musicians. Three of the residents are formerly three-fourths of an operatic quartet: Wilford, the good-humored aging lothario;  Reggie, the earnest teacher who finds the similarities between opera and rap; and the kind-hearted Cissy, whose hold on sanity is more fragile than many of the other residents.

Enter Jean, the fourth member of the quartet. Jean reluctantly moves into the retirement home and initially tries to isolate herself from the other residents.  Her former partners are unaware that she was coming to their home. Wilford and Cissy try to draw Jean into a more social lifestyle. They are partially hindered by the stormy past of Jean and Reggie, who had been briefly married.

Then the quartet is offered a closing performance of the annual Verdi celebration. Jean adamantly refuses to perform, apparently due to a deteriorating aging voice. When Cissy tries to talk Jean
into performing, Jean reacts badly and the resulting effect is to push Cissy into a mental break.

The four actors who play the quartet are perfectly cast.  Maggie Smith plays Jean, wounded, egocentric, wistful, regretful. She captures all the character's nuances exquisitely.  Billy Connolly, an actor best known for his stand-up comedy routines, brings a good-natured humor and sexual potency to Wilford. He's so good that it's hard to imagine that Peter O'Toole was originally cast in the role. (O'Toole dropped out because he realized that he no longer had the stamina for a movie shoot.) Tom Courtenay is fine as the contemplative and still love-struck Reggie. Pauline Collins beautifully walks the tightrope between sanity and lunacy, and gives Cissy a golden soul.

I'm a little surprised at director Hoffman's choice of material for his first directorial feature. His results are laudable, though. He allows the actors to expertly ply their trade. He was wise enough to cast the supporting roles with actual aging musicians.  The look of the film seems right and the movie didn't strike me as having originally been a play at all. The choice of music in the play and the score itself was cannily selected.

All in all, Quartet is a beautiful look at the artistic soul as it ages. It was a far better film than I anticipated, well-written and tightly directed. It's a feast for anyone who loves full-blooded acting by thespians who know how to deliver the goods. Grade: B+.

I watched this film on Netflix's streaming service on April 25, 2016.

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