Quartet | Movie review
Dustin Hoffman directs a tale of aging opera stars.
For his directorial debut, Dustin Hoffman takes on the sort of material most filmmakers save until the end of their careers. Set in a British retirement home for aging musicians, it’s a tale of senior citizens preparing for their final performance. The source is a 1999 play by Ronald Harwood, no stranger to the big screen thanks to his work on The Dresser, The Pianist and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, among others. The title refers both to a foursome of opera singers and a famous piece from Rigoletto that eventually brings them together at a benefit concert designed to keep their home in business.
While the premise sounds like a geriatric variation on a Mickey Rooney–Judy Garland musical, Quartet doesn’t try to squeeze much suspense out of the plot. Instead, Hoffman focuses on the relationships among the singers, particularly that between Reg (a dapper Tom Courtenay) and Jean (Maggie Smith), a couple who split up years ago without ever quite getting over each other. At their side are Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins), who mostly supply comic relief (the latter, unfortunately, courtesy of the type of plot-friendly dementia that kicks in only when needed). The acting is predictably strong and the dialogue nimble, but the script resolves complicated conflicts too easily and, worse, suggests its characters’ passion for music without showing much of that passion. The movie is cozy and pleasant but frustratingly depthless, a gathering of maestros and grand dames that skimps on the arias.