Dustin Hoffman steps behind the camera for the first time with Quartet, a very British adaptation of a Ronald Harwood play about a retirement home for musicians. Its an odd, dated choice for a directorial debut, with material thats better suited for the theater, or an old-school BBC television comedy, than a 21st Century flick from one of Hollywoods great talents.
A comedy starring distinguished actors in a picturesque countryside setting, the movie offers what is in every sense a refined, scrubbed-clean experience. Its so proper you practically suffocate.
Still, theres a lot to admire here. With more than 50 years in the film business, Maggie Smith is one of its treasures. Its a great pleasure to watch her play soprano Jean Horton, who is reunited with members of her quartet when she reluctantly moves into the Beecham House.
The home faces closure, you see, and Cissy (Pauline Collins), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Reg (Tom Courtneay) need Jean to join forces with them at a benefit concert to save the place. Jean has decided shes done singing, though, and a rocky history with her ex-husband Reg only further dissuades her from signing on.
Its a juicy part for Smith, perfectly suited to her gift for paralleling sorrow and pride. Shes matched by predictably fine performances from Collins and Connolly, who does his charming Scottish rogue thing.
Courtneay, another veteran, is an ideal foil to the star. Regs past despair is the tangible, emotional heart beneath the films refined exterior.
No movie starring these actors, plus Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in most of the Harry Potter flicks), could possibly be all that bad.
But Quartet is tepid when it wants to be sophisticated, a slow-moving, middlebrow endeavor thats about as stimulating as a cup of cold tea.