Wednesday, January 9, 2013


It seems like the popular thing to do for actors is to eventually take their turn behind the camera as the director.  Dustin Hoffman has been acting for nearly five decades, but makes his directorial debut with "Quartet".  The film is based on the play of the same title by Ronald Harwood.  The film has made it to just about every festival this fall from TIFF to Austin and will receive a wider release this weekend.  

The story takes place at Beecham House, a home for retired opera singers and musicians, during the weeks leading up to the annual concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi's birthday.  The house is filled with seniors with arthritis, dementia and various medical conditions.  The gala event is being organized by famous director Cedric (Michael Gambon) who that thinks more of himself than others, but struggles with memory loss.  The main piece of the Verdi gala are long time friends Cissy (Pauline Collins), Reggie (Tom Courtenay) and Wilfred (Billy Connolly) who are trying to figure out what piece to perform.  When Reggie's ex-wife Jean (Maggie Smith), an eternal diva, arrives at Beecham House the idea of performing the great Quartet that they were known for seems like a natural decision.  Unfortunately, Jean is struggling with accepting old age and refuses to sing and tarnish her reputation.  Old rivalries and theatrical temperaments resurface and it becomes unclear if the show will or will not go on. 

It is nice to see the typecast parents and grandparents in so many other films finally cast in a film specific for them.  And having them curse and be raunchy old men flirting with the young doctors just feels natural.  The performances from the entire cast were brilliant and compliment the timeless beauty of the music perfectly.  The writing is witty and provides just the right amount of humor.  Frequently when a movie is based on a play the tempo of the film feels flat and staged, but with the talented actors and vision of Dustin Hoffman it never feels flat. 

While the film isn't perfect, it succeeds in everything that it attempts to do.  Where it lacks is in appealing to a wider audience as the film even acknowledges that opera was once for the people but was taken over by the rich and ruined by the fancy dress and theaters.  Opera is when someone is stabbed in the back and then sings about how they feel.  In contrast, rap or hip-hop is about being stabbed in the back and then talking about it, sometimes even with rhythm and feeling. 

Regardless of how music is created it will live on after us; it keeps us young and inspires us.  The love that someone has for music can be infectious.  You should go see this film, because the alternative is to be the guest of honor at the crematorium.  For 3 Quacks it is worth seeing and you will be impressed by the performances. 

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