Directed by: Dustin Hoffman Cast: Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: Jan 25, 2013
PLOT: A group of residents (Connolly, Smith, Collins, Courtenay) at a retirement home for musicians aim to reunite to perform a quartet by Verdi.
WHO'S IT FOR? This film is more deserving of the audience that ran to see the comparably terrible The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but it's not for a specific age group either. Viewers who don't even know what the inside of retirement homes look like will enjoy this film for its witty humor, authentic performances, and its amount of charming-man-Billy-Connolly-driven laughs. And if you liked hearing real singing in Les Misérables, here's more true musical talent being put at cinematic center stage.
Music is so easily taken for granted by movies. Scores thoroughly written by accomplished composers carry a film through its high and low points while having to remain invisible, actors lip sync through songs sung by performers never shown onscreen. Musical groups are formed so easily in films that it's no wonder the objective of learning music seems as easy as simply owning an instrument, or vocal cords. While movies certainly do love music, it's as if musicianship has been taken away from the art form itself, in order to have simpler presentations of true talent.
Thankfully, there is now Quartet, a fine breakout for promising filmmaker Dustin Hoffman, and a movie driven by passion for the beauty that is the creation of music. Using performers with their own real musical history, the film has a jovial sense in celebrating real talent, while also displaying the chutzpah of those whose lives still remain focused around the creation of their art. It is more true than A Late Quartet, and especially something like Pitch Perfect. It's more entertaining than the two, as well.
The story for Quartet plays like sheet music a la Pitch Perfect, but this film actually has funnier jokes, and a better energy. It's essentially a variation on story No. 4, Op. 2 - that of the "gang getting back together." The key to keeping this story alive, despite its blatant simplicity, is its casting, whether it's the thorny Maggie Smith, who Maggie Smith-s throughout the story with sass that viewers plop down ten dollars just to witness. Her stubbornness creates the only conflict in the movie, but it does work with the insta-charisma she brings to the character.
Along with this, it's the heavy amusement shared by watching Billy Connolly barrel through this movie with sharp dialogue that can keep up with the movie's zippy editing. He bounds in and out of the movie, with one-liners, and a contagious attitude. Both of them have the required charm to keep this movie from being stuffy; for translating the joy shared by the residents of this musical retirement home to the film's audience.
As a film, Quartet is cut with aesthetic enthusiasm, not dawdling on punchlines muttered by actors like Connolly, but instead moving onto the next one. Quartet is a film running at the speed of "allegro," with an emphasis of joy that such a musical tempo asks for. This quickness keeps the movie sharp, and the movie is somehow even funnier. It's a speed more comedies could use, and it isn't one immediately associated with films about retirees.
While its main focus may be classical music, and feature plenty of namedropping of older music, Quartet shows to be a film with ears open to all genres. One of the film's best sequences involves Courtenay and his musical class, which consists of him teaching young students about opera at his retirement home setting. In this moment, he encourages a dialogue between his students about the connection between seemingly distant genres like rap and opera, which brings about a freestyle from one of his students. It's a very satisfying moment, both for its writing, and its confirmation of Quartet's beliefs — art does not know age, nor a particular style, it only knows talent.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10