REVIEW: Quartet
REVIEW: Quartet

There's just one problem with Quartet, Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut centred on a home for retired musicians: it's not The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

That film - about a group of British retirees who travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel and made on a modest $10 million budget - struck a chord like no other with the more mature cinema-goers this year.

Like the hotel itself, the John Madden-directed feature slowly charmed its way into people's hearts to become the surprise box-office hit of 2012, amassing a staggering $134 million worldwide.

However, by becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year in Australia, it could possibly have set the benchmark a little too high for other films geared towards the, ahem, more mature demographic (think of it as a baby boomers Bridesmaids).

So while it's hard to fault Quartet - a charming outing from Academy Award-winning Hoffman - it's impossible not to compare the two. That is a shame because while Quartet - based on Ronald Harwood's play of the same name - doesn't quite hit the same high notes, it's likely to appeal just as much to the same senior set who turned out in their droves to see Marigold Hotel and ensure the strength of the grey dollar.

Marigold Hotel's Maggie Smith lends her weight to the cast along with Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins.

The latter three play Reg, Wilf and Cissy, retired musicians, living out their days in Beecham House, a home for similarly gifted old folk.

However, their peace is shattered with the arrival of former soloist Jean Horton (Smith), Reg's former wife and the fourth string in the quartet.

Her arrival stirs up memories from the past when her diva-like behaviour split the quartet - and ruined her marriage.

However, with Beecham House's gala concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday looming, the friends must patch up their differences with Jean and try to convince her to rejoin the quartet so the show can go on.

Quartet is not as laugh-a- minute funny as the trailer - and the plot is a little flimsy.

The ambling pace also seems to match that of a typical day in a retirement home. However, it is a gentle and amusing film and while the actors don't have much material to work with, what they do have is each other.

There are some delightful interactions between the four leads and the other residents of Beecham House, including the wonderful Michael Gambon who plays Cedric, the narcissistic concert co-ordinator.

Mealtimes, in particular, are the source of much amusement as the residents sit around and engage in some cheeky banter.

Indeed, what's lovely about Quartet is the fact all of the actors get their moment in the spotlight - almost as if they were on stage.

Smith is in her element as the object of Reg's affection and enjoys a lovely chemistry with Courtenay while Collins' Cissy cuts a simultaneously bubbly and tragic figure whose dementia is not as funny as it once seemed.

However, it's Connolly who steals the show as the randy Wilf, who cheekily tries it on with all the ladies at Beecham House, including its young manager Dr Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith).

What's most interesting about Quartet, though, is that it seems to play out like a film within a film within a film.

The cast is made up of actors in their "third act", starring in roles that could very well mirror their own lives alongside real-life elderly classical musicians.

And while there are a few holes in the piece - the subplot surrounding the threatened closure of the home seems to have been conveniently brushed over - it's a tender film with some gorgeous English countryside and an overriding message that the passage of time can heal wounds.

Quartet may not get a standing ovation but it's certainly worth a polite round of applause.

Quartet is now screening.

The West Australian

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