Tuesday, January 29, 2013

‘Quartet’ has a Melancholy Sweetness


Reginald (Tom Courtenay) and Jean (Maggie Smith) play
former flames in "Quartet." Weinstein Company
A sleepy new movie has snuck into theaters this weekend and it almost feels pointless to write a review since many will not bother to go and see it anyway.

The premise of the movie isn’t one that large audiences usually cling to. None of the main actors were born after 1940 and the story takes place at a retirement home where the biggest excitement happens during a croquet match. But this little film will surprise you in many ways. For one, it isn’t depressing. Two, it is a comedy. Three, it features a fantastic cast. Fourth, it features many talented musicians and singers who still have much talent despite their old age. Fifth, it is directed by Dustin Hoffman.

The residents of Beecham House look eagerly on who
the new resident is.
Unlike the posters and the TV commercials, “Quartet” is truly about four characters. Maggie Smith may have top billing, but this isn’t just “her” movie. She is just the newest resident of Beecham House, a retired home for musicians. Her character, Jean Horton, is a former member of a famed quartet. The other three members already live at Beecham House. There is Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), who is a former flame of hers; Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly), a free spirit personality who has long given up trying to impress others; and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins) a sweetheart who fades in and out of dementia from time to time. The three desperately want to perform one more time as a quartet, but Jean will have nothing to do with it. For some unexplained reason, she has given up singing altogether.

Jean (Maggie Smith) is welcomed
to her new home.
What could have been a depressing movie about old age, “Quartet” actually sheds a more positive outlook on growing old. The residents of Beecham House live very busy “retired” lives. They sing, rehearse, teach classes to young students, play croquet, swim in the pool, but most importantly, they plan for their annual gala event where they raise funds to keep their living quarters. Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon) takes it upon himself to serve as the director and somehow thinks he can tell everyone else what to do. More or less, they let him, but with rolling eyes.

Dustin Hoffman directs "Quartet."
However, “Quartet” also smartly shows the reality of their situation as well. All the residents are clearly stressed when a fellow resident is carried away to the hospital after having one of his “episodes.” They struggle with bad hips and dizzy spells. Every day they are reminded of their own mortality. “Old age is not for sissies,” states Cecily, “I always remember that because my name is Sissy.”

“Quartet” is movie that stresses the importance of living life to the fullest, extending forgiveness and appreciating friends and family. The film only lacks in two areas:
  1. The annoying belief that audiences want to see elderly people utter inappropriate and crass sayings. This film is only rated PG-13 for this reason. Sorry Dustin, but this “cute” trick has been overdone. Nobody wants to hear a grandma with a potty mouth.
  2. The lack of a religious faith. It appears that none of the characters have any sort of guidance outside of themselves. Seems to me that the most contented people are those who know where they are headed after their mortal life are through.

If you see “Quartet” (and you should) stay during the credits to see how many of the supporting cast members are actually former opera stars and musicians. (Originally posted on Examiner.com)

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