Dustin Hoffman's second directorial feature is dead on arrival.
Yes, you read that right kids. Directed by Dustin Hoffman. Aside from his (uncredited) work as co-director on Ulu Grosbard’s 1978 crime flick Straight Time, this is, at the age of 75, Hoffman’s first time behind the tiller. And, frankly, it’s an inauspicious and somewhat anonymous effort that fails to evoke any of the charm he’s able to so effortlessly conjure when the lens is trained on him.
Blithely hopping on the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gravy train in search of the coveted ‘silver dollar’, Quartet is a featherlight ensemble comedy based on a third-tier script by Ronald Harwood and set in the musty, oak-panelled confines of a grandiose retirement home for classical musicians.
Sweeping aside the downer anxieties of impending mortality, the film instead focuses on four central characters and their life-affirming efforts to get the band back together for one last concert and save the building from closure (no, really).
Billy Connolly plays to type as prank monkey-in-chief, with his character suffering from a hilarious brain defect which means he can’t help himself from goosing the staff and referring to his esteemed colleagues as f'ing c's. Then there’s angelic naif Pauline Collins, who makes crippling dementia look painfully cute.
But at the centre, we’re gifted a pair of lovely performances from Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay, the latter delivering an especially soulful turn as a world-weary alto who remains hung up on an abortive past romance.
Hoffman is clearly a more gifted director of actors than he is at employing the camera as a tool to do something more than tastefully record things as they happen. But it’s interesting that this beloved mature performer would chose to work from this material, perhaps articulating a belief that creativity, once acquired, never leaves you.
One of the film’s most moving motifs addresses the idea that, through physical and mental decay, the inhabitants of the home are slowly losing the ability to do the thing they love. Hoffman has clearly made this film as a clarion call to embrace creativity up to the very moment your body will no longer allow it.
Hoffman’s offbeat screen presence might make this one to catch.
A scattering of small, lovely moments, but hardly setting the screen alight, especially with its cop-out ending.
It’s no Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But what is these days?