NANCY NAPPER CANTER reckons the older generation would be better off watching Amour.
Kids: welcome to Beecham House, a home for Retired Musicians. Meet the opera-singers-cum-old-farts who sing, laugh, and grow old there. The ones we’re meant to care about are Reginald (Tom Courtenay), lovable lecher Wilf (Billy Connolly) and their kooky friend Cissy (Pauline Collins). And, because this film is called Quartet, there is, of course, a fourth: old acquaintance of the three and new resident at Beecham house Jean (Maggie Smith.)
A former star who never had fewer than twelve curtain calls, Jean is now a bit fragile, like one of her suitcases – “Be careful with that one. It’s fragile”. (Symbolism!) To counter Jean’s malaise, we have Cissy and Wilf, who play scatterbrain and flirt respectively. Cissy is an aged bimbo, and Wilf, well, he’s just a ‘very naughty boy’ – “Fancy vous a little rumpy pumpy?” – who gets away with it because of that irresistible twinkle in his eye. Or something. I don’t really know. I just found him intensely irritating.
Courtenay retains some dignity as the more solemn Reginald, but the odds are against him. On learning of the unexpected arrival of Jean – his long estranged ex-wife, it quickly emerges – Reginald says sadly, ‘I wanted a dignified senility. Fat chance while she’s here’. But it’s the script, not Jean, that thwarts Reginald’s plan. One scene in particular springs to mind: that in which Reginald and some multicultural members of da yoof discuss rap and opera. It culminates with a rap celebrating their similarities, and contains the line, ‘Lady Ga-What?’ Bad luck, Reginald.
Dustin Hoffman’s direction is devoid of imagination. Shots of Beecham House’s elegant exterior in autumn twilight persistently remind us that this film is about being in your autumn/twilight years, and the soundtrack is exactly what you’d expect for a film about elderly classical musicians. The script is just as uninspired: about three jokes are repeated to death. One is about Cissy’s silliness, the second – more tiresome still – is about Wilf’s ‘wee bit o’ testosterone’, and, fittingly, there are a good few about repeating yourself, which never fail to fail. (And did I mention jokes about repeating yourself?)
When I wasn’t wincing, I was bored. Jean’s initial hauteur, her failure of team spirit – “I’m going to say something very rude. Fuck you!” [Gasp.] – and her refusal to perform at the benefit gala, were only ever going to precede a cosy rapprochement. Yawn. Oh, and just before the quartet goes onstage, Reginald whispers to a (no doubt willing) Jean: ‘Let’s get married’. I would have said ‘spoiler alert’, but this vacuous, sentimental and predictable film spoils itself.
One of Cissy’s tropes in this film is ‘old age is not for sissies.’ (She remembers it because ‘sissy’ is like her name, but with an ‘s’.) The film itself, however, begs to differ. I plan to spend my autumn twilight years watching films like Sightseers, Django Unchained – heck, Amour, even. Cinema-goers deserve better than Quartet, whatever their age.