It's kind of like Grumpy Old Men meets Opera. Well, maybe not quite as grumpy...
That's how I described Quartet right after seeing it. I'm probably overstating it a bit, as it's not the same kind of movie, nor is it as funny as Grumpy Old Men, but it was a pleasant surprise to watch. I really wasn't interested in seeing yet another movie featuring Maggie Smith in a retirement community. I just watched Best Exotic Marigold Hotel recently, and I was in the minority in not being a big fan of that film, despite the great cast.
Even as Quartet began, I had to wrap my head around the premise of people living in a retirement home for musicians. Such a thing exists? I had to do some searching and it appears that there are niche retirement communities popping up. Many believe it's the future of retirement. It's actually not a bad idea, and then I thought about other niche communities that might be desirable, like ones for fitness enthusiasts, movie aficionados, gamers, or sex addicts. Okay, maybe not that last one. I just gave myself the willies thinking about it.
Actually, that's related to one of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed the most. The movie's focus is on quartet of opera singers, but the biggest personality of them belongs to Wilf (Billy Connolly), who's basically a walking hard-on, hitting on all the women in the community, always looking to sneak in a drink, or trying to get high. I'm not exactly looking forward to getting old, but when I do, I want to be just like Wilf. Some might find his antics in the film a little too cute, but without him, I don't think Quartet would have been nearly as enjoyable. Besides, if more old people acted like Wilf, I think we'd all have a little more fun.
Tension builds in their community, when the last, and most famous member, of their quartet moves in. Jean (Maggie Smith) isn't wild about living there, but her ex-husband Reg (Tom Courtenay) is even less thrilled when he finds out.
Meanwhile, we learn that the retirement community isn't doing all that great financially, but if the quartet can be convinced to put aside their differences and perform their famous song from Rigoletto at an annual concert, this will help raise enough money to keep the place afloat.
The plot itself is pretty light, and there's not a lot of time spent on the details, which was fine with me. The real focus of the film are on characters and their history. Quartet was based on a play by Ronald Harwood, who also wrote the screenplay. What's getting more attention is the fact that this is Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut. I don't know what took him so long to direct, but I think Hoffman did a good job with all the actors and getting us to care about them, while keeping the story breezy enough that it never feels too heavy handed. The drama between the quartet and story plays out pretty predictably, so I didn't get much emotionally from it, but much of this was played for light laughs.
This is helped by the rest of the cast. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is the director of the concert, who takes things way too seriously, and Wilf loves to give him hell at every opportunity. Pauline Collins plays the funny and sweet fourth member of the quartet who's struggles the most with her memory, but you somehow get the feeling she might not have been the brightest of the four in the first place. Sheridan Smith also had nice chemistry with Wilf as Dr. Cogan. Wilf hits on Dr. Cogan constantly, and I took great delight in watching his various attempts to seduce her.
Quartet is a sweet and charming film that might not be for everyone, but I found it funny and enjoyable to watch. Much like how some kids films have elements hat will will appeal to adults, this is the film you could take your grandparents to and still enjoy yourself. It's nothing you need to rush out and see, but a good rental or a nice matinee.
3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars