“Quartet” marks Dustin Hoffman’s official debut as a film director, though he was originally slated to direct the 1978 cult hit, “Straight Time” (and, by some accounts, actually did).
Hoffman is one of the seminal film figures of the 1960s and 1970s, part of a group (including Al Pacino and Robert De Niro) that had the same effect on its generation of actors as James Dean and Marlon Brando did on theirs.
But even his deft touch and a cast of all-stars cannot rescue the kind of blandly schematic comedy that Ronald Harwood has adapted from his own play. I’m a big fan of the kind of charming comedy the British do so well, but Harwood lacks the light-fingered touch or imagination to lift this material beyond the predictable.
Here’s the one thing I will say for Harwood: He’s managed to make a film about people in a retirement home without having one of them die, to make a dramatic point. Nobody dies in “Quartet,” though decline is still a factor.
Set in a rural British facility known as Beecham House, the story focuses on the residents: specifically, this is a home for retired musicians. Most of them are classical instrumentalists; there is also a cadre of former opera singers. They live for the annual Verdi’s birthday fundraiser, when they get to ply their talents for a paying audience and show that there’s still artistic life after retirement.
This year, it seems even more urgent; there are rumored budget shortfalls imminent, so the talent show is particularly crucial to the home’s financial life. Fortunately, there is a new box-office attraction: recently retired opera diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), who is about to move into the home and who will help attract a sell-out audience.
This review continues on my website.