Review of Dustin Hoffman's Directorial Debut, 'Quartet'

By Tanaz Ahmed on March 11, 2013

Quartet: Truthful observation of the life’s realities 

A film about musicians far past their prime living in a retirement home hardly sounds like a movie for college students.  However, starring British heavyweights Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, Prof. Mcgonagall in the Harry Potter series), Michael Gambon (Prof. Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series), Tom Courtenay (The Golden Compass), Billy Connolly (Brave) and Pauline Collins (Albert Nobbs) as retired classical musicians, Quartet is full of surprises.

The film is Dustin Hoffman’s (Meet the Fockers) directorial debut at the age of 75, after Straight Time in 1978, a movie in which he started as the director when shooting began but ultimately decided to give up the role and hire another.  Years later Hoffman received the script for Quartet, an adaptation of a play written by Ronald Harwood, who also wrote the screenplay for The Pianist (2003).

So why would 20-somethings, us college kids, want to watch a movie featuring a slew of 70-somethings–other than for the reunion of Professor Mcgonagall and Professor Dumbledore? Fans of Downton Abbey will be pleased to find that the film’s narrative revolves around Maggie Smith. For those who aren’t into Downton Abbey but are looking something a bit more mentally and emotionally stimulating than what’s currently out in theaters, such as 21 and Over, this film is for you.

Without breaking a sweat, Maggie Smith simultaneously evokes anger as well as pity of the audience in her role as the sharp-tongued diva, Jean. Jean is an once famous opera singer, and her vivacious arrival at the retirement home unravels the peaceful existence of her former co-workers: Reg (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins). The unraveling of these lives is powerful and poignant; Reg crumbles from the pressure of long-held grudges while Cissy, due to old age, slowly succumbs to dementia.

The movie isn’t all drama (though it has its fair share). Connolly elicits a laughter with his unabashed, honest observations and flirtatious interactions with other retirees. Gambon is a sight to see as the comically flamboyant leader of the retirement home’s benefit gala. Each of the characters views their situation in a jovial manner, and is refreshingly aware of it.

Even during the many lighter moments, the audience is reminded of the film’s gentle philosophical undercurrent. Quartet is a sincere contemplation at the realities of fame, old age, regret and hope. It is about living in the truth until one’s last breath.

Want to see Quartet yourself? Visit www.google.com/movies to find a theater near you.

Tanaz is a student at the University of Michigan studying English and international studies. She writes about all things entertainment related for The Uloop News.

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