Quartet [Blu-Ray] Dustin Hoffman

Quartet [Blu-Ray] Dustin Hoffman
5
Ignoring Michael Haneke's Amour or, to a lesser degree, Michael McGowan's Still Mine, cinematic depictions of the elderly tend towards glib second chance parables or cutesy "age is just a number" bits of condescension. They're syrupy-sweet and fuelled by cartoonish contradictions, like skydiving senior citizens or slightly naughty septuagenarian glee clubs with hip-hop dancing grandfathers. For the most part, Dustin Hoffman's adaptation of Ronald Harwood's play Quartet does little to defy this stereotype. Horn-dog Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly) comments on the pleasing pendulousness of his friend Cissy's (Pauline Collins) breasts while their mutual friend Reginald (Tom Courtenay) stiffs his upper lip and says something British. This idiosyncratic trio of deliberate juxtapositions and comic hyperbole live in a home for retired musicians, where choirs and orchestra practice are part of the daily routine for those winding up their fleeting mortality. Where the second chance treacle comes into play is the introduction of Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), the ex-wife of Reginald and a notorious diva. Though she's arguably the biggest celebrity at this pastoral, rather exquisite rural retirement locale, she has little interest in making the trio into a quartet (get it?) during their annual concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday. She thinks it's silly to perform now that she's past her prime and, presumably, less agile and nuanced than in her youth. But, as Cissy's dementia progresses and Reginald's initial fear and hostility start to wear off, Jean's tune begins to change ever-so-gradually, eschewing her more curmudgeonly characteristics in favour of embracing the company around her. Once this premise is established, the checklist of events plays out as expected, framed by Hoffman's non-descript, unsurprisingly solipsistic direction. His background as an actor is evident in the lingering reaction shots and overly claustrophobic handling of talky, theatrical material — there's no larger visual trajectory or much concern with things like flow or mathematically paced editing. Instead, the focus is on forlorn glances at floral decorations and introspection, as defined by staring off into space and sighing. Fortunately, Billy Connolly keeps his cliché alive, cracking jokes and candidly discussing sex between musical interludes and breathy discussions about past regrets. Nothing is learned or gained amidst the noxious delusions posing as uplifting, life-affirming matinee fluff. The behind-the-scenes features about Tom Courtenay's anxiety over meeting, and working with, Maggie Smith do little to shed additional light on the film. Neither does Hoffman's commentary track, where he rarely speaks and refers to everyone as "great." (eOne)