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Review Roundup: Dustin Hoffman's 'Quartet' is Genial Escapist Fun

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood December 5, 2012 at 3:26PM

Dustin Hoffman's genteel directorial debut "Quartet," starring Maggie Smith and a legion of other notable Brit actors as members of a musicans' retirement community, will play best for music-loving Anglophiles who enjoy the company of wily and entertaining British seniors. Yet again, Dame Smith steals the show as a proud aging diva who arrives with no idea how much she wounded the husband she once jilted during her more playful days at the top of the opera world. Tom Courtenay is her courtly swain, while Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins chew up the scenery as the remaining members of a once-famous quartet.
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"Quartet"
"Quartet"

Dustin Hoffman's genteel directorial debut "Quartet," starring Maggie Smith and a legion of other notable Brit actors as members of a musicans' retirement community, will play best for music-loving Anglophiles who enjoy the company of entertaining British seniors. Yet again, wily Dame Smith steals the show as a proud aging diva who arrives at her new home with no idea how much she wounded the husband she once jilted during her more playful days at the top of the opera world. Tom Courtenay is her courtly swain, while Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins chew up the scenery as the remaining members of a famous quartet. 

So far this charming escapist romantic comedy, which the Weinsteins debuted in Toronto as an Oscar campaign launch, is sitting a bit lightly with the critics. That's because it lacks the psychological heft that Hoffman is known for in his astounding resume of acting roles, and seems content to let Smith do what she could in her sleep -- "immortal, withering scorn." Still, Academy actors could push Smith into the Oscar race, either for this lead role or her showier supporting turn in "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." 

Review roundup below.

The Hollywood Reporter:

Dustin Hoffman’s directing bow at 75 finds a perfect match in the well-heeled subject of Quartet, a charming tale of aging musicians whose passion for life continues undiminished in a stately English manor filled with humor, caring and of course great music. This optimistic fairy tale about aging and the continuing possibilities it offers for emotional satisfaction should strike the fancy of older audiences who turned the British indie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel into a breakout hit released around the world.

The Guardian:

No wonder ["Quartet"] fails to engage with the vagaries of ageing. What we have here really is the high-school movie given a silver spin. Ronald Harwood's script, adapted from his own play, follows the template familiar from Fame to The Muppets: there's some bitching and bullying, in-fighting and ego-jostling, but everyone pulls together at the end to put on a show. Our prom king and queen, who need reuniting after, y'know, history, are Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith; his sidekick is ladies' man Billy Connolly, forever winking about "older men, vintage wines, seasoned wood", while her confidante is dappy Sissy (Pauline Collins). Michael Gambon is a fez-wearing fright, Trevor Peacock a larky muddle. Stereotypes are not shied from.

L.A. Times:

Instead of delving into the human psyche, as [Dustin Hoffman’s] done so unflinchingly in too many roles to mention — though I will point to the sheer range that took him from "Midnight Cowboy's" dying gay grifter, Ratso, to a newly single dad in "Kramer vs. Kramer"— the actor's first turn in the director's chair is a genteel comedy. Not to get xenophobic about it, but "Quartet" is a quintessentially British production from this quintessentially American actor. There are no echoes of "Tootsie" in its humor, or "The Fockers," for that matter. It's set in a refined "Masterpiece Theatre"-styled world of aging musicians, their final days being played out in a British retirement home that has the elegant comfort of a squire's country estate.

Telegraph:

Immortal though the withering scorn of Maggie Smith may be, it’s a complacent filmmaker who asks nothing else of her but a look of haughty horror at whatever new vulgarity awaits. Rest assured, we do get our money’s worth of these in "Quartet"… Thankfully, though, she’s found herself in the hands of a director so sympathetic to the art of performing he’s made a whole film about it.

This article is related to: Reviews, Quartet, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Smith, Awards, Awards, Oscars, Reviews


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.