2012 Milwaukee Film Festival: Quartet Review

Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman is the latest actor to take what he’s learned from master filmmakers he’s worked with and becoming his own master taking over as the role of director. You would think that, after 45 years of acting, Hoffman would’ve started his directing career a little earlier but better late than never. Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut is the semi-romantic crowd pleaser Quartet starring Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, and Michael Gambon. The film had its world premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and is now making the festival rounds, including the 2012 Milwaukee Film Festival, before it’s limited release later this year. Quartet brings together Oscar-nominated actors for a light and slightly romantic film with a thin narrative. It’s destined to play well for older audiences but it may be too fluffy to gain serious attention during the upcoming award season.

The film, adapted by Ron Harwood based on his own play, centers on a group of retired musicians and opera singers who reside in the Beecham House, a retirement home in England’s countryside. The Beecham House is a place where the retiree’s golden years can be spent in each other’s company as well keeping music a strong aspect of their life. On the horizon for the Beecham House is the annual Verdi Gala, a fund-raising event that the Beecham House relies on just to gain enough funding for the next year. The residents of the Beecham House anticipate the arrival of a new resident by the name of Jean Horton, a legendary opera singer (Maggie Smith). Upon arrival, Jean is very uncomfortable being there since she knows she’s reaching the third act of her life and there’s no turning back. She is also not welcomed by a couple of the residents, especially by Reginald (Tom Courtenay) who was her first husband. They divorced because of Jean’s infidelity, which led to untreatable heartbreak for Reginald. As they are forced to be in each other’s company, they both must come to terms with the past.

Unfortunately, the narrative of the film fails to offer any real surprises. Although the actors work very well with the roles given to them, it seems as if the two central characters, played by Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay, seem underdeveloped. The narrative would’ve been stronger if the character’s past were explored a little bit more. This is where some of the desired surprises could’ve been offered. The predictable narrative relies on the endearing performances by the cast to keep it as entertaining as possible. It’s clear with this film that Dustin Hoffman knows how to work extremely well with actors since this film is more of an actor’s showcase than a film with a strong narrative.  A comedic performance by Billy Connolly is one of the highlights of the films. Another actor who brings his comic sensibilities to his role is Michael Gambon, who is best known as Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series. He is a scene-stealer as an egomaniac and cranky resident of the Beecham House.  Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay give noteworthy performances as an ex-married couple that rediscovers their love for one another. Throughout the film, there were a few chuckle worthy moments that will most certainly keep an audience engaged and entertained, no matter how easy it is to predict what is to come next. I must mention that the film is beautifully shot. The imagery accompanied with the classical music makes it a great film on a technical level.

With the surprising financial success of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel earlier this year, the Weinstein Company hopes that Quartet will follow a similar route which makes sense because both are certainly light crowd pleasers. If I were to make an educated prediction, the film is destined to be a hit with older audiences. I just don’t sense that this is a film that younger audiences are going to flock to go see unless they’re curious if Dustin Hoffman has as much talent behind the camera than he does in front of it. Quartet opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 28th with an inevitable expansion in early 2013.

Quartet – 6/10

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