"Hey, Gang! Let's put on a show!"
--attributed to Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney)1
"Old age isn't for sissies."
--Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins)
Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, adapted by Ronald Harwood from his play, concerns an implausibly elegant retirement home for aging musicians. After some comedy, character revelations, and conflicts, much of the tension centering on a famous diva, Jean Horton's (Maggie Smith), arrival, the residents learn that their home is in danger of being closed. We shouldn't wonder, given its implausible elegance, but never mind. The solution? They're going to put on the best talent show ever, garnering further moments in the spotlight and getting together the necessary funds to save Beecham House! The plan just might work-- if they can get the reluctant, reclusive Horton to join the other three members who once performed a legendary quartet from Verdi.
Really, that's about all you need to know. A group of geriatric performers need to resolve decades-old conflicts in order to save their home. And it stars some of the finest actors of recent times, and numerous real-life retired musicians and singers.
So, do they succeed?
Look, this film manages to be many things, but unpredictable isn't one of them. The writer has left no trope unturned, and no plot development untelegraphed. We have an old conflict revealed to be, at least in part, the result of a misunderstanding that might have been cleared up in five minutes if anyone had bothered to talk. We have an elderly Lothario (Billy Connolly) whose comments and behavior should constitute sexual harassment but, since he's old, we find his dirty old man shtick riotously funny. A comically eccentric, self-centered director (Michael Gambon). An aging talent fighting her own aging mind (Pauline Collins). A geriatric instructor (Tom Courtenay) and a group of teenager finding common ground-- between rap and opera, no less. Last-minute decisions. Emotional button-pushing of all kinds.
It works surprisingly well-- far better than it should-- in no small part because of its cast. I doubt Maggie Smith could be anything less than brilliant, even if she tried. The rest of the main cast can act circles around Hollywood's current stable of overpaid underwear models. We even get a small role for Andrew Sachs, best known as Manuel on Fawlty Towers. He's still funny.
The minor cast consist of retired musicians and singers, many of whom get to perform in the final show. Despite attempts to keep pacing, this segment will work for you based on whether you're up to hearing them. As a bonus, the credits include shots of the cast in their glory days, with annotations concerning their careers.
These people exude charm, and Hoffman knows how to draw the best out of performers and script. We also hear a soundtrack written by some of history's greatest composers. In short, Quartet is sentimental, schmaltzy, and predictable, but exceptionally well-realized. It won't win over those seeking blockbuster fare, and it won't lose much for you on the small screen. If you like performance, however, you'll find this film entertaining. And enjoying life, as one character observes, is far superior to our inevitable, final role as guest of honour at a funeral.
Maggie Smith as Jean Horton
Tom Courtenay as Reginald Paget
Billy Connolly as Wilf Bond
Pauline Collins as Cissy Robson
Michael Gambon as Cedric Livingston
Sheridan Smith as Dr. Lucy Cogan
Andrew Sachs as Bobby Swanson
Dame Gwyneth Jones as Anne Langley
Trevor Peacock as George
David Ryall as Harry
Michael Byrne as Frank White
Ronnie Fox as Nobby
Patricia Loveland as Letitia Davis
Eline Powell as Angelique
Luke Newberry as Simon
Shola Adewusi as Sheryl
Jumayn Hunter as Joey
Aleksandra Duczmal as Marta
Denis Khoroshko as Tadek
Sarah Crowden as Felicity Liddle
Colin Bradbury as Olly Fisher
Patricia Varley as Octavia
Ronnie Hughes as Tony Rose
Jack Honeyborne as Dave Trubeck
John Rawnsley as Nigel
Nuala Willis as Norma McIntyre
Melodie Waddingham as Marion Reed
Cynthia Morey as Lottie Yates
John Heley as Leo Cassell
1. But does he ever say it? I haven't seen too many of Rooney's old films, so I can't say for certain. The closest reference I can find is in Babes in Arms, where he asks for the gang's help and then announces, "I'm gonna write a show for us and put it on right here in Seaport!" Of course, he isn't playing Andy Hardy in that film, nor in a number of the show-themed films he did while he cranked out the Andy Hardy series.