Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Dustin Hoffman's condescending direction turns old people into horrible giggling puppets." | Photo: Weinstein Co

Dustin Hoffman's lackluster directorial debut Quartet is not to be confused with The Late Quartet, or you may as well confuse the two, if a movie that is at best described with the adjectives heart-warming and quirky, combined with the nouns retirement home and ex-opera singers, excites you.

At Beecham House, a home for retired musicians, a kind of Gosford Park manor with pools and sports and such, we are treated to almost non-stop singing by the inhabitants of the place, who practice for their annual concert on Verdi's birthday. The plot focuses on four former opera singers, who all starred in Rigoletto, once upon a time. There is less doubt here than in a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland let's put on a show musical, whether or not the performance will go on.

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The complications and hesitations seem even more trite, though, because nobody here has any financial worries, and the love stories of the past, are so uninteresting, that you might just want to fall asleep under a tree somewhere in the luscious park and wake up when the movie is over.

It is understandable, if a first-time director tries to follow established rules and not be too daring, but this conservative piece of nothing is hell to sit through.

The young actress who plays Dr Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith), head physician of this "home," does nothing remotely doctorly or heady, and Hoffman has her walk around in a tight pencil skirt and silk blouse, carrying a cup in her hand in every scene, as to distinguish her from the cleaning personnel.

On to the fallen stars: Maggie Smith, poor Maggie Smith, gets to play a cassoulet of her roles of the past 10 years. A bit of Downton Abbey, a bit of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel without wheelchair, grumpy eye rolling and looking out of windows, no direction to make her former opera star Jean Horton unique. Pauline Collins plays "Cissy", who has dementia, carries an ugly floral bag with her at all times and gets self-parodying jokes, such as, "old age is not for sissies." Get it?

Billy Connolly as "Wilf", plays the wolfish womaniser and his dialogue oscillates between complimenting every gal he sees on whatever body part is most prominent, and fart jokes. The rest of the actors, many of them played by actual retired musicians, wobble about the set as decoration and soundtrack. Dustin Hoffman's condescending direction turns old people into horrible giggling puppets. Male puppets, who say lines such as "I always wanted to sing Wagner", while peeing on a tree. Female puppets who are vain and have retired cat fights.

Tom Courtenay (Reginald), the fourth lead in the title's quartet, gets to play the straight man "Reg" to Connolly's joker. He is also the love interest, Jean Horton's ex-husband and music teacher to groups of students. In a particularly patronising scene he informs a black young man about the difference between rap and opera, as part of a school outreach the retirement home does. Later on, the same young man is being taught, with disapproving looks, when not to clap during classical concerts. Rigoletto, "one of Verdi's masterpieces … it's about infidelity," is supposed to glue together this frightfully unoriginal movie. A little more infidelity to the bland play by Ronald Harwood, some dialogue that doesn't include laxative heirs or sentimental clichés would have gone a long way. Michael Gambon (Cedric), who has no real function in the plot is reduced to barking.

A recent article in the science section of the New York Times discussed a study stating that people after a certain age have greater difficulty recognising when someone tries to trick them. Has Dustin Hoffman reached that stage and does he think his audience will join him?

Reviewed on: 31 Dec 2012
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Quartet packshot
Four ageing opera singers are reunited in a retirement home.
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Director: Dustin Hoffman

Writer: Ronald Harwood

Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon

Year: 2012

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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