It’s virtually impossible not to discuss Quartet, without mentioning The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Director Dustin Hoffman’s (yes the actor) drama is an amiable lark about four aging opera singers in Beecham House, an old folks home for retired British musicians. It’s a pretty tony place with satin sheets and gorgeous vistas. Residents lounge around the opulent grounds while sipping tea and playing croquet. It’s a decidedly different view of old age from Michael Haneke’s Amour of the same year. This is sweet comfort food that doesn’t aim too high. It merely seeks to entertain with the charisma of our seasoned stars. There’s sophisticated but slightly gloomy Reggie (Tom Courtenay), sweet but slightly daffy Cissy (Pauline Collins) and cheeky but slightly oversexed Wilf (Billy Connolly). They actually sang together in a famous performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto” a long time ago. They’ve been friends forever. But this is a quartet after all and thrust into their midst is new arrival Jean (Maggie Smith), the irritable old biddy who still carries the torch for our dear damaged Reggie.
While I was watching Quartet I was charmed by the trifling observations and banter of our four main stars. I chuckled occasionally at the “I can’t believe an old person just said that” one-liners, mostly from Billy Connolly’s character. I’ll also single out Michael Gambon as kaftan-wearing Cedric who rules their impending musical production with an iron hand. He’s rather amusing. But days later as I reflect upon what I saw, I can barely remember any of it. Perhaps you have to be of the septuagenarian set or older to truly appreciate this. It certainly is gentle. Even Cissy’s encroaching senility is treated as a sweet personality quirk. If you’re looking for entertainment that doesn’t rock the boat and is content to simply be cute, then you should enjoy Quartet quite a bit. The company unquestionably elevates this material into something that’s worth your time. It’s an effervescent little piffle. Nothing wrong with that. Given the talent involved, I guess was hoping for something more.