MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By The Weinstein Company
Directed by Dustin Hoffman. Starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay
I have a suspicious feeling that, as the Baby Boomer generation ages, we will be seeing more movies about older adults grabbing life for all that it’s worth and having a wonderful time. We saw this in last year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and now it’s ours to enjoy once more in Quartet, the first feature directed by 75-year-old Dustin Hoffman.
Most of the story takes place in Beecham House, a home for retired musicians that is facing some financial struggles. What to do? Taking a cue from Mickey Rooney (still alive at 92) in 1939’s Babes in Arms, it’s time to put on a show! Since this is a classy retirement home, they decide to have a benefit concert featuring a star quartet of opera singers singing tunes from Verdi’s Rigoletto.
Three of the singers are currently living at Beecham House and (as fate would have it), the fourth is about to arrive. Her name is Jean (Maggie Smith) and she is the ex-wife of Reginald (Tom Courtenay), whom she hasn’t seen in decades. The other two singers are Wilf (Billy Connolly), a lecherous charmer, and Cissy (Paula Collins) who is beginning her struggles with early dementia.
The plot – as slender as it is – includes light comedy, light pathos, and light domestic drama, served up with light classical music.
Unfortunately, as hard as these great actors work, the whole movie is cumbered by the decision to film it all in the lovely British mansion that serves as Beecham House. I never bought it as a retirement home; there are stairs and open hallways galore and just one chair lift. (The script conveniently says that the elevator is on the fritz.) The grounds include a croquet court, a nice wooded area, a couple of benches, and footpaths that would trip up most octogenarians. A musician who is physically able to conduct a class at a local school has the students travel by bus to Beecham House instead. That’s what happens when you have a location shoot for a film based on a stage play. Even the benefit concert takes place in the retirement home!
Still, this is a pleasant enough movie and enjoyable for what it is. When the end credits roll (and you should stay in your seat for them), you discover that Beecham House is also filled with actual opera stars and actors from the past (and some great ones, indeed); we also get to see photos of them when their younger selves from fifty years or more ago. It’s a real testament to the power of music and contributions of the artists who bring that music to life
And – sigh – as I read the dates of these performances I realized that some of these dudes are just ten years older than I am! Fetch me my cane, Martha! It’s time for a stroll!
Three halos: There’s some beautiful persons on screen and a life-affirming message about creating art
Two pitchforks: A few bad words, some caustic comments and a few crude jokes – you know, like a weekend with Grandpa.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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