Acting icon Dustin Hoffman has made a new movie, and it’s something new for the 75-year-old thespian: it’s his first time in the director’s chair. The film is Quartet, a charming story of the drama and hilarity that ensue at a British retirement home for singers and musicians when egos collide and old flames are reignited. Hoffman has wisely decided to sit this one out and devote his attention to solely working behind the scenes, and the result is a social register of British veterans working in front of the camera.
The narrative takes place at Beecham House, a glamorous retirement village in the English countryside where retired musicians come to live their twilight years and indulge in music. Wilf (Billy Connolly), Reginald (Tom Courtenay) and Cissy (Pauline Collins) all reside here and are part of a one-time operatic sensation that abruptly came to a close when infighting tore the group apart. Decades later, they live in peace at Beecham, playing odd gigs and reliving the glory days any way they can.
The film’s conflict comes in the form of Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), the final piece of this group’s quartet. Upon her arrival at Beecham, it’s clear that aside from being their long-forgotten singing partner, Jean is also a notorious diva who was instrumental in the group’s split. It doesn’t help matters that she has unfinished business with everyone in the group, including one member who also happens to be an ex-flame. Old grudges are quickly resurrected and this once-successful quartet is reduced to fighting like babies for maximum comedic effect.
Hoffman seems to be enjoying himself crafting Quartet behind the scenes as he confidently relies on his veteran actors to run loose and have fun. The comedic build-up of this group coming together and resolving their differences to play one final concert is as straightforward as they come, but where the story lacks originality it more than makes up for in sheer charm. All four leads bounce off each other with such hypnotic chemistry that you can’t help but leave the theatre with a huge grin on your face.
It’s obvious that Hoffman has picked up plenty of tips from his decades on movie sets. The man has worked with established directors like Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, Warren Beatty, Sydney Pollack, Mike Nichols, John Schlesinger and Sam Peckinpah, just to name a few. Ingenious touches from several of these veterans are present in Quartet, but the best thing Hoffman has learned from them as a director is to be confident in crafting your story and hire the right people for the job. He’s done it here with his actors and he’s also done with it with the film’s screenplay. It’s written by Ronald Harwood, who based it on his own play of the same name. He also wrote The Pianist, a completely different movie involving musical instruments.
Quartet is scheduled for release December 28, 2012, and was screened at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.