Maggie Smith in "Quartet"
Like "The King's Speech," "Quartet" is musty and middlebrow, set in an imagined Britain of high class and low jokes. What it lacks in period pedigree it makes up for in a steady diet of quips from the form's reigning dowager, Maggie Smith. In The Weinstein Company's hands, it will likely earn solid box office and awards attention.
Set in a home for retired musicians, perhaps the best that can be said about much of "Quartet" is that it's wholeheartedly inoffensive. The film ranges about the pretty grounds in autumn, gently probing its aging characters' nostalgia for a day, long since past, when singing Verdi provided passage into the world of stardom. It's a sweet, sometimes saccharine, piece of work, comfortable gliding along the surface of what it might mean to have achieved greatness only to be forgotten. It is, as Reggie (Tom Courtenay) says about his hopes for retirement, a form of "dignified senility."
Director Dustin Hoffman and thrice-Oscar-nominated writer Ronald Harwood (who won for "The Pianist") who adapted the script from his own play, do little to prevent their good intentions from winnowing the characters down to mere placeholders, thin guises of the "old people are funny" variety. Billy Connolly plays the lecher, making a charming pass at every younger woman who walks by; Pauline Collins gets the daffy grandma, warm and childlike; and Michael Gambon, his flowing, embroidered costumes seemingly stolen from Dumbledore's closet, lords over the proceedings as the imperious director of the home's annual fundraising gala.