Old people sure are adorable, aren’t they? It’s a stigma you really can’t escape if you go to the movies much. Last week’s “Amour” made an effort to squash that trend, but the coots are back to their old tricks this week in “Quartet.”
Dustin Hoffman’s film comes from the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” School of ‘Septuagenarians Say the Darnedest Things,’ where every member of the cast with any mileage under their belt is repeatedly reduced to a cutesy caricature for comedy’s sake. It’s a tactic that worked to fine effect in “Best Exotic” last spring but that nearly allows “Quartet” to collapse under the weight of its own cutesiness.
What works best in “Quartet” — not to be confused with the lousy “A Late Quartet” — is its cast. Maggie Smith, who was also used to good effect in “Best Exotic” (playing pretty much the same character she always plays), is terrific here, in a role that actually allows her to sit back and have a little fun for a change. Her craggy, battle-ax persona that served her so well in films like “Gosford Park” and “The Last September” is virtually absent here, as Smith shows she is equally adept at playing someone who can still be quite bashful when it comes to falling in love.
The rest of the film, which is set in a castle that acts as a retirement home for former musicians, is littered with fine performances from people who are much better than the material they are given. Tom Courtenay, Billy Connelly (playing his 567th inappropriate goofball) and Pauline Collins are the leaders of the pack, each representing 25% of a washed-up quartet who’re fixing to perform one last time for charity, if only they can get Smith to agree. And that’s pretty much all there is to the plot. (“Quartet” is based on a play by Ronald Harwood, who also penned the script.)
It’s unclear what drew Hoffman to this material. The actor isn’t particularly known for these sorts of movies (the guy made so many gritty films over the years that I imagine him still having grit under his nails to this day), but I can report the audience with which I saw “Quartet” pretty much ate the film up. Did I miss something? Do I need to be in my 60s to find the charm in a movie like “Quartet”? I can appreciate the fine performances, but maybe I was the old curmudgeon when it came to the cutesiness.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
Rated PG-13 for a couple of F-words. 98 minutes.
Director: Dustin Hoffman. Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay.