Friday, 2 January 2015
There's not much bang for your buck, or grey pound rather, in Quartet; Dustin Hoffman's first foray behind the camera which continues to cement this somewhat anglophile stage his career has now taken.
The slight story concerns retired, ageing and ailing musicians in a stately nursing home and a titular quartet (played by Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins) who reunite to perform at a gala evening. And that's about it really. Sure there's personal history and mild animosity between Smith and Courtenay's characters which needs to be overcome and some vague, respectful statements on the rigours and deterioration of age, along with the notion the elderly can say and do whatever they feel in Connolly's mildly roguish turn, but the narrative remains willfully insubstantial and fizzles away to naught.
At the helm, the best you could say of Hoffman is he's clearly an actor's director and he casts very well not only in the four main parts but also in a supporting cast that includes Michael Gambon, Andrew Sachs, Michael Byrne, Trevor Peacock, David Ryall (who sadly passed away on Christmas Day) and Sheridan Smith as the home's resident doctor, but they're all worthy of much better material than this. There's nothing for them to get their teeth (or dentures) into here and it shows, there's not even a climax to the film - in casting four non singers (yes I know Connolly came from the folk clubs, but that's not going to cut it in opera circles) the film paints itself into a corner which means it can't give the viewer the rousing, never-too-old conclusion the film is owed.
I know the grey pound genre gets a lot of criticism for offering nothing too taxing for its target audience and, with this and the similarly vapid Song For Marion, it's easy to see why. Quartet is not going to alter anyone's perception of this kind of film at all. Le-Weekend may have looked like one but it carried Hanif Kureishi's bitter cynical humour to create something subversive and honest for its audience - so that one might. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gets a drubbing in some corners, but at least there was a touch of fun to the proceedings in that one, there's less atmosphere in Quartet than there is in space. One of the numbers on the closing gala night scene, performed by Ryall and Peacock, is 'Are You Having Any Fun?' Well, it strikes me that the shooting of this film was more fun than the viewing and the closing credits which highlights the casts past glories (rightfully to point out the career some of those in smaller supporting roles as it turns out they really were from the world of opera and classical music, but it's pushing it a bit when you feel you have to point out Sachs was in Fawlty Towers!) suggest Hoffman was a little bit in awe of his British counterparts and simply wished to celebrate the talent he admired - shame then that he gave them so very little to work with.