Quartet (2012)

Both The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet teach simple lessons. Life is all about the ride, so why quit hunting for an adventure when you turn 70?

Rating: Can be seen on any screen, but its hard to beat sitting in a theater where few people are under the age of 50 and not relishing their emotional response to this film.

QuartetWhile the aging process is far from easy, many of us are thankful that Hollywood is finally paying attention to it. Last year we were graced with the sterling The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and now Director Dustin Hoffman brings us his appealing Quartet.

Ironically, the great Maggie Smith plays a crucial role in both films, reminding us again of the talent bestowed on her by the acting Gods. Though in both films she played a role where she was fighting a bitterness that was consuming her, she was not a woman who was willing to jump off life’s train.

Quartet deals with an upscale British retirement home for musicians. All of them were immensely talented at one time, and they still have enough piss and vinegar where they are willing to perform in public. Sure, the ravages of the life process are knocking on their doors, but to their credit these artists all realize that there is a graceful way to exit the stage for the last time.

The film centers on a handful of adorable artists, all of whom are in their own 70’s. Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins play Wilf Bond and Cissy Robson, an engaging pair who are not always lucid, but are always entertaining. Ms. Collins’ character is a bit loopy, while Mr. Connolly vividly remembers that sex is not to be forgotten simply because it is in his rear-view mirror.

Mr. Connolly is a Scottish actor who you will immediately recognize. While he will appear in the next two Hobbit movies to be released through 2014, you also should hunt him down in The Last Samurai (2003), Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) and Fido (2006). I truly liked all three, particularly Fido where he plays a domesticated zombie who evolves into the family’s protective friend. It is sort of an old age version of the recently released Warm Bodies.

Michael Gambon is his normal gregarious self playing Cedric Livingston, the director of our singers. He is captivating on screen at all times, and he remains a certified treasure. I can only urge you to revisit his role as the aging King George V in The King’s Speech (2010) and his magnificent performance as Professor Albus Dumbledor in the Harry Potter films.

Nonetheless, the spirit of the film resolves around divorced former lovers who bitterly said goodbye years earlier. They must now share each other’s company while neither can escape the resurrection of past emotional feelings.

The two are played by Tom Courtenay and Ms. Smith, and they both try to determine if they can overcome their past mistakes. While I don’t need to retrace Ms. Smith’s wondrous career, let me just note that greatness follows in her footsteps. She has a magnificent resume, which, like Mr. Gambon, includes her repeated role in the Harry Potter films. Didn’t we all love Professor Minerva McGonagall?

Mr. Courtenay is in many ways a well kept secret, despite the fact that he received Oscar nominations for his role in both The Dresser (1983) and Dr. Zhivago (1965). He at all times carries himself with grace and dignity, and his struggling relationship with Ms. Smith left you frequently as unnerved as them.

In addition, Mr. Courtenay’s character in Quartet refuses to wallow in misery, choosing to teach a young group of students about the meaning of classical music. In the process, he allows a young British student to give him a taste of rap music, and it is a truly golden moment of the film.

Ms. Smith plays a legendary performer who is on the verge of walking away from the golden accomplishments of past years. While she resists the invitation from Mr. Courtenay, Mr. Connolly and Ms. Collins to join a quartet for the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday, you know where this film is heading, and the movie benefits from it.

As noted above, I loved The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for a host of reasons stated in a previous review. Quartet doesn’t quite rise to that level, but it does affirm something that all of us need to remember, namely that life is not for quitters no matter your age. In both films you observe splendid actors playing complicated people over the age of 70 who are desperately trying not to give in or give up.

In the process they are teaching all of us a lesson that we should not forget.