Movies don't get much lighter"”or enjoyable"”than Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut. This is one of those leisurely Sunday afternoon films we don't get that often, because every weekend must bring some box-office champion.
Quartet is mostly about a trio for its first half-hour, made up of former opera singers played by goofy Pauline Collins, uptight Tom Courtenay, and randy Billy Connolly. They all live at the Beecham House for Retired Musicians, which is easily the nicest retirement home ever portrayed onscreen. They enjoy their simple existence as they prepare for their annual showcase, which raises money for the home.
Life is dull but rewarding until everything's upended by the arrival of Maggie Smith, the woman who broke up their band years ago. Anyone hoping for Smith to be as nasty as she is Downton Abbey will be sorely disappointed. There's more sadness than vitriol running through her veins here.
Michael Gambon, playing the drama queen who organizes the showcases proposes a reunion, even though Tom Courtenay protests, harboring bitterness toward his old partner. This is such a nice movie filled with nice people that it should be easy to figure out what the end result will be, but it's still touching when it gets there.
Like most movies based on stage plays, the direction is unexceptional and the action very minimal. I'm most reminded of last year's Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. While that movie had some serious heartbreak, I liked this movie more because it never tries to be anything more than a jolly old romp. Any threads about mental illness or getting older are glossed over because this is a movie ultimately about forgiveness.
But my favorite aspect of the movie is the cast that's not billed. Since the house is full of retired musicians, every single resident of the home is played by someone who performed for years in the UK and Europe, from opera singers, orchestra members, and other musicians. It's a nice touch to a movie that's extremely low-key. Quartet is not a great movie and doesn't suggest that Dustin Hoffman is a force behind the camera, but it's a perfect light alternative to all the heavy movies headed our way.