In a weekend that features two new films about senior citizens, Quartet is the fun one. It shares a lot with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Not only is it a dramedy about a retirement community full of quirky, quippy characters looking for comfort in their golden years, but it also features Dame Maggie Smith, once again playing a cranky, unfiltered yet still dignified old lady. Here, she's Jean Horton, a legendary opera diva who reluctantly moves into Beecham House, a British retirement home for professional musicians.
This ruffles the feathers of some of the residents—mainly, the former members of her operatic quartet. There's Wilf (Billy Connolly), a cane-wielding cad who is enthusiastically sliding into dirty old man territory; Cissy (Pauline Collins), who teeters between ditziness and full-fledged senility; and Reg (Tom Courtenay), the sensible one who spends his days teaching visiting kids how opera was the hip-hop of its day. Reg is particularly upset about Jean's arrival, since they used to be married and Jean cheated on him.
As you've probably guessed, Quartet is one of those movies where the band gets back together for one last powerhouse gig. Coincidentally, Jean moves in right when the home is preparing its annual benefit show on Giuseppe Verdi's birthday, and the foursome gets pressure to perform the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto. Jean may need more convincing, since she fears her voice may not be what it was in her prime.
Quartet marks the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman, who adapts Ronald Harwood's play with crisp, surprising sophistication. Considering that Hoffman is himself in his eighth decade, it makes sense that he would get behind the camera with this light yet meaningful offering. He wants to show he can turn it out just as much as the old folks who populate this film.
Hoffman assembles a classy crew of veteran performers (including Michael Gambon hamming it up as the egotistical, extravagant benefit director) to keep this movie from becoming the clichéd and schmaltzy affair you worry it might become, especially in its cloyingly cute first half. Thankfully, Hoffman and Harwood forgo predictable tropes (not to give anything away, but mourning will not be a recurring theme) as they get these four together to do what they do best.
The movie, like the play it's based on, is more about reminding audiences that talented people are often still talented in their later years. It's safe to say that Quartet will be the feel-good movie of the year—for anyone over 65.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Love's outer limits."