American Film History: Dustin Hoffman's Directorial Debut in "Quartet"
Where Do Retired Opera Singers Go?
From Downton To the Retirement Home
©2013. Patty Inglish: Film reviewer - Armchair Interviews, Kids In Mind, private authors, educational publications, local weeklies.
At age 75, Dustin Hoffman took on the task of directing the entertaining film Quartet about four aging opera stars that move into a retirement home. If you enjoyed the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel about UK retirees moving into a residential hotel in India, you likely will enjoy Quartet, staring Dame Maggie Smith from TV's Downton Abbey and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as well as Harry Potter Films, and Billy Connolly, as well as Michael Gambon and Pauline Collins..
The Hoffman film knew high success in its screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2013 and was scheduled for limited release on January 11 and wide release on January 25, 2013. It is an uplifting story of aging people living on and doing as much as their spirits spur them to do, despite retirement. No story of aging is completely free of tears, but the subsequent laughs will soar for you all the more because of them.
After the slew of slasher movies and their parodies released in early January, Quartet is a sheer delight. Viewing it is like taking a vacation.
Quartet (2013), PG-13, Comedy of 95 minutes.
Distributed by The Weinstein Co., directed by Dustin Hoffman
- Maggie Smith - An unmatched comedic and dramatic actress, she has performed about every type of genre except Star Trek®, and may do that yet if we don't watch her closely. She is one of the main draws to Downton Abbey on PBS TV.
- Tom Courtenay - Plays "Reg", the Smith character's ex-husband. One of his best performances was his Oscar nominated performance as the Shakespearian actors' dresser in The Dresser with Albert Finney, who also was nominated.
- Billy Connolly - Top comedian and dramatic actor in Scotland and USA on television, theater, and screen productions.
- Michael Gambon - Late of the Harry Potter franchise as Dumbledore. Sir Launrence Olivier called him "The Great Gambon" early on in his career.
- Pauline Collins - She starred in a fascinating production of Paradise Road (1997). In this work, women incarcerated in a Japanese-run POW camp during WWII defied the enemy by forming a vocal orchestra.
The film was shot in England and involves a retirement home designed for aging musical and operatic stars. The inmates and those professionals not quite at retirement age come together once a year in order to raise money with a musical show. It's all rather like an old Andy Hardy film with senior citizens, but more fun. The actors are able to be funny while getting across the ideas of the traumas of advancing age and the good spirit that can overcome them. Maggie Smith displays excellent timing, as she does in Downtown Abbey and as doubtless she has always done. This movie is a charm to watch.
Three retirees that hang about with one another at the home are joined by a fourth, who happes to be Smith's character, who was once married to one of the first three. She left him in order to help her career and there is still bad blood between them. One of the male retirees has had a stroke that has changed his personality to odd and comedic ends. He reminds me a bit of Alan Tudyk in Death a a Funeral (the Frank Oz version), but that character is drugged rather than partially stroked. Imagine four such characters as these mentioned singing a quartet...
"Old age ain't for sissies."
That was first said on screen by another sort of dame, Bette Davis.
The line is given by Pauline Collins as her character begins to whine extensively and at length about old age, until another retiree tells her rather to suck it up. Pensioners in Western countries still battle as through they were in the junior high lunch room and I wonder if this will ever cease to be the case.
Nowadays, I tell middle schoolers to learn to avoid such adolscent fights now and have a happier retirement life later. In retirement, I am going to stay out of the lunchroom and watch the quartet of films mentioned in these paragraphs.
NOTE: Because of inattention to where they are posting, some reviwers on Amazon.com have left reviews of the 1981 heavy drama Quartet with Maggie Smith at the 2012-1013 comedy Quartet product listing. Regardless, a listing for the new film is up and awaiting release and pricing, but shoppers can pre-order. If you get the 1981 Quartet by mistake...it's a dark, dark story; but you might like it.
Additional Film Treatments Of Aging and Death with Humor
Stars Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson. You must see how Dame Judi's character retrains Indian call center operators in this one!
From VWs To International Reknown
In the late 1960s, Dustin Hoffman began to make commercials for VW, like this humorous one offered above. Over four decades and many awards later, he received the Kennedy Center Honors in late 2012. Some of his best film portrayals have been in Rain Man, The Graduate, Kramer vs.Kramer, Tootsie, Last Chance Harvey, and voices in Kung Fu Panda, among others. I remember a stage production of Death of a Salesman in which he was extraordinary in the lead of Willy Loman.
I've heard many times that he is humble, offering to do additional takes of his scenes in order to get the best on film. Not yet confident enough (according to some critics) to direct a film to conclusion until Quartet, I think has has done admirably. I wish he would direct a comedy about VWs!
As Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's ''Death of a Salesman,'' Dustin Hoffman doesn't trudge heavily to the grave - he sprints. - Frank Rich review at NY Times, 1984.