Judge Clark Douglas hopes someone is starting work on a retirement home for online film critics.
Our review of Quartet, published March 29th, 2004, is also available.
Four friends looking for a little harmony.
"This is not a retirement home, it is a madhouse!"
Facts of the Case
Our story begins in Beecham House, a retirement home for talented musicians. It's a lovely place, but some residents are beginning to worry that recent financial difficulties will force the home to close. In order to ensure Beecham House's preservation, many of the elderly musicians who live there agree to participate in a benefit to be held on Giuseppe Verdi's birthday. Four of the current residents were once part of a very well-regarded recording of Rigoletto, and many of their peers are urging them to perform together again to help the fundraising efforts. Alas, the complicated relationship between two of the musicians—the reserved Reg (Tom Courtenay, The Dresser) and the prickly Jean (Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey)—may very well prevent the reunion from happening. Can Beecham House be saved?
I'm of two minds about Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut Quartet. On the one hand, it's a likable, tender, well-crafted film that gives a handful of excellent aging actors an opportunity to showcase their talent. Maybe I should just stop there. Maybe that's enough. For many viewers, it undoubtedly will be. But no, permit the jaded cynic within me an opportunity to express himself: the movie also suffers due to leaning very heavily on convention, indulging easy sentimentality and permitting itself to become yet another movie that treats the elderly as adorable kooks (what with their quirky old-fashioned tastes and varying levels of senility). It's quite reminiscent of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but that film's virtues outweighed its drawbacks to a greater degree.
To be sure, the movie isn't the worst film of its type—it's several notches above something like The Bucket List—but there are numerous moments in which the movie indicates that it could have been something more. In one scene, Courtenay engages in conversation with a number of young music students about the differences between opera and hip-hop. I know, I know, it sounds cheesy, but the scene works due to Courtenay's engaged, sensitive performance and due to the thoughtfulness of the writing. The comparisons being made between the musical genres don't seem like a lame attempt at all-ages appeal, but some legitimately thoughtful commentary on an interesting subject. When did opera transform from the music of the common man to the music of the wealthy and privileged? When will hip-hop make the same unfortunate transformation (if it hasn't already done so)?
A small handful of central performances are lovely. Courtenay in particular stands out, making us realize just how poorly the movie industry has used him in recent decades. Granting the actor such a meaty role is the smartest move Hoffman makes, though the brilliance of that decision is undercut by the fact that the film doesn't use the great Maggie Smith terribly well. Billy Connolly has a good time as the film's rakish playboy, and Michael Gambon is suitably cantankerous as the man responsible for organizing the charity event. Hoffman fills out much of the supporting cast with real-life opera singers, who perform their musical numbers beautifully despite the fact that the movie often pushes them into caricature.
Still, it's hard to get over the mustiness of the whole affair, from the wheezy "let's put on a show to save our beloved building!" set-up to the rather calculated emotional revelations that are tossed out as the film heads into its final act. The legitimately moving material is accompanied by scenes that are clearly trying too hard to tug at the heartstrings, and too much of the genuinely funny material is offset by clunky scenes that find great amusement in the notion of old people saying mildly naughty things (such as when Smith dramatically drops the f-bomb or when Connolly cheerfully tells a woman she has "spectacular tits").
Quartet (Blu-ray) arrives sporting a handsome 1080p/2:35:1 transfer. While Hoffman doesn't seem to have much of a visual flair, that's not a huge problem given the nature of the material. Still, the whole thing does have trouble transcending its roots as a stage play. Detail is strong, flesh tones look warm and natural and blacks are deep. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track won't knock your socks off, but it's clean at all times and rather robust during the musical numbers. Supplements include a commentary with Hoffman and six very short behind-the-scenes featurettes that run fifteen minutes combined.
Dustin Hoffman's debut behind the camera is a pleasant affair, but the Oscar winner's skills as an actor far transcend his abilities as a director.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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