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NOFF Review: Weinstein Oscar-Fodder 'Quartet' Stars Maggie Smith

Photo of Matt Brennan By Matt Brennan | Thompson on Hollywood! October 15, 2012 at 4:27PM

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.
Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith and Dustin Hoffman at TIFF
Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith and Dustin Hoffman at TIFF

Only Maggie Smith, as a haughty and very much unloved opera legend, is able to break from the grasp of this sustained pleasantness, channeling the sharp-tongued misanthropy of her role on "Downton Abbey" from the first. Given her long career, recent resurgence, and the film's placidly "tasteful" sensibility, I can't help but think that her performance will lead to an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She curses, sneers, and comes around, even intimating the film's underlying, mostly unacknowledged sadness. In an otherwise airless movie, Smith barrels through like a gust of wind.

If, for about 90 of its 94 minutes, "Quartet" managed to make mundane its notions of love, death, and bitterness — a pill easily swallowed, but a pill without punch — I was almost surely alone in this assessment. The matinee crowd at the New Orleans Film Festival, mainly of the age group that turned "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" into one of the year's surprise hits, gave it a hearty endorsement of laughs and applause. "Quartet" is an effective piece of safety-valve cinema, careful never to let its emotions run too hot or cold, and for that it seems to have been all the more popular with the audience.

The other four minutes, unaccountably, left me terribly moved. Like "The King's Speech," "Quartet" builds to a rousing, heartfelt ending — I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that even the end credits had me welling up — that nearly, but not quite, erases the memory of what's come prior. "What happened to forgive and forget?" Smith's character asks her estranged ex-husband midway through the film. A good lesson for life, perhaps, but not wise advice for the movies.

The U.S. theatrical release of "Quartet" is set for December 28.

This article is related to: Reviews, Festivals, Headliners, Awards, Genres, comedy, Drama

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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.