It is always interesting to see the transition made between actor and director; Dustin Hoffman is the latest to take the plunge. Quartet, his directorial debut, features a star-studded, mostly British cast; the quartet of the title is made up by Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins. They are retired opera singers spending their remaining days in Beecham House, perhaps the nicest retirement home in the whole of England – complete with an array of expensive instruments, luxurious rooms and expansive grounds (including croquet gardens and a pond). Growing old has never seemed so comfortable!
It is hardly surprising that with this level of refinement and splendour, the institution is worrying about funding. As Michael Gambon – in a deliciously hammed up performance as the arrogant director of the home’s ‘gala concert’ – spits out in constant frustration, if not enough tickets are sold, the house might have to close. A good job, then, that the eponymous quartet of singers is reunited in the same place for the first time to save the day. But there are spanners in the work; the tension between Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay, and her unwillingness to perform, may mean that the home’s days are numbered.
The above paragraph is simply a plot synopsis, but you would have to be very innocent not to guess the film’s outcome from there. Quartet is not a deep film, and it is certainly not original; the plot feels very familiar, sometimes tediously so. But it has no pretensions, and does not pretend to be more than it is; a rose-tinted, feel-good comedy, giving a deliberate wide berth to anything too dark or hard-hitting.
The cast is a dream, from the four main stars to the wealth of supporting actors, so it is a shame that they are not given more time to breathe. At a running time that barely exceeds 90 minutes, we are left with a feeling that the film, surely, could have been a little longer and a little more complex. It is just as disappointing that, in a film that contains such comic potential – considering the cast that has been pulled together – that the humour isn’t a little sparkier and less predictable. Billy Connolly is given little more to do than spit out dirty jokes (some more successful than others) and Maggie Smith’s performance, however good it is, feels ever so slightly recycled from Downton Abbey.
This said, however, Quartet is certainly not a bad film. It is pleasant, harmless, and it has its moments. As expected, it is beautifully acted, and the cinematography is very easy on the eye. A little more honesty, complexity and originality definitely wouldn’t have gone amiss, but as a first directing venture, this is quite a commendable effort.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, James Martin (December ’12)