Movie Time: Quartet
I love a good bargain. After all if you don’t have much money, and even if you do, shouldn’t you get as much value for your dollars as possible? I sign up for a lot of newsletters and member clubs with our favorite brands and sometimes it really pays off. We got an email about a special offer for a screening of Quartet at the Angelika at Mosaic. You got a discounted ticket price and free popcorn. That’s a great deal. I didn’t know much about Quartet except that Maggie Smith was in it and that was good enough for me to purchase this deal. While we loved our experience at the Angelika, I’m afraid we didn’t enjoy the movie itself very much.
Quartet takes place at a British retirement home for musicians. The primary characters of the story are 3 friends Wilf, Reginald and Cissy. The residents still perform and every year throw a gala concert to celebrate composer Verdi’s birthday. The characters quiet and predictable life is thrown into upheaval with the arrival of Reggie’s former wife and famous soprano, Jean. Ultimately, the 3 friends try to convince Jean into recreating their famous quartet from Rigoletto in an attempt to generate the funds to save the retirement home. The story is based on the play of the same name by Ronald Harwood. After reading some of the criticism for the play, I think that Harwood, who also wrote the screenplay, did a better job in the film of up loose ends. But, the story still feels somewhat unsatisfying. However, the worst part is the language and innuendo that is so heavily used by almost all characters. It may seem novel to seem to see old people curse and talk in a salacious manner, but it’s not funny- it’s sad. Our elders should be treated with respect and while it is a fact of life that filters disappear from some minds and a variety of inappropriate things come tumbling from their mouths, it shouldn’t be a punch line. I also don’t believe that in most cases it’s a valid excuse for the characters in the film. One of the most dignified gentleman lets loose with torrent of insults that is truly vile. While another character is explained as speaking continually about sex following a stroke doesn’t sound like a valid assessment. This character had a rather ribald past and it seems like a convenient and inaccurate excuse. I was really made uncomfortable and was very displeased with much of dialogue, as well as the continual comically performed sexual harassment of caretakers at the home.
The acting in the film is its stronger aspect. Maggie Smith gives a touching and strong performance as former soprano, Jean. While she never actually sings we see her struggle with all the emotions of being a side-lined performer and see, although without sound, her struggle through the rehearsal process. Tom Courtenay is a stoic, but not unapproachable Reginald. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when he teaches a music class for young people and compares opera to rap. Pauline Collins is a sweet and heartbreaking at times, Cissy. I’ve never been a big Billy Connolly fan, reaching all the way back to when he replaced Howard Hesseman as the teacher on Head of the Class. I find his humor far too blue to be truly funny. His character Wilf, aside from continually sexually harassing anyone within reach, spews a continual stream of filth. I argue that because Connolly’s own stand up is so blue that this means his performance while accurate to the script is no tour de force because he’s not really acting merely performing. Michael Gambon really stands out as a wonderful character with his portrayal of Cedric Livingstone, the director of the gala. Gwyneth Jones performance as celebrate soprano and Jean’s rival is spirited and her voice (she’s a famous soprano in real life) is stunning!
Dustin Hoffman directed this piece and succeeds with visually establishing a visually elegant and pastoral home for the residents. The acting is really strong, but it can’t save the bawdy and flawed script. While the script does have some sweet and tender moments they are overshadowed by the saltiness of much of the dialogue.
I love the Angelika. It’s so pretty, clean and new. They even have a big decal on the wall in the lobby from On The Town. It’s always a treat to see Ann Miller and Gene Kelly- even just an image. The popcorn that came with the purchase of this special ticket was huge! It was also completely delicious. I truly don’t know when I’ve had better popcorn. The seats were comfortable. I like it when movie theaters have stadium seating, because I’m short! I really like this theater and look forward to when we can return again.
Angelika at Mosaic – 9
When Kari noticed very cheap tickets to go see Quartet at the Angelika in the Mosaic District, we jumped at the chance. Quartet was already in our Netflix queue, and we’d really wanted to see a movie at the Angelika.
Quartet is another in the seemingly endless series of British movies that shout old people are still people too! In this case, we’re seeing inside a retirement home for musicians. So the added message is that the elderly can also still do things. It was neat to see the old musicians, who in many cases are actual experienced musicians, but the message was a pretty heavy-handed. The writing overall is where this movie falls apart. There are some dangling plot points that don’t get developed enough, and the overall story isn’t given much depth.
The acting in this movie is amazing. If anyone has only seen Dame Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey, they really should experience her here. Her performance is real and balanced, and nuanced, even when the script isn’t. The rest of the eponymous quartet is stellar as well. Tom Courtenay was great to watch as he fumed about as Reggie. Pauline Collins delivered a scene stealing performance as the mentally here one minute somewhere else the next Cissy. Hers was a touching and very real take on senility. The loudest of the quartet is certainly Billy Connelly’s Wilfy. I’ve loved Connelly ever since he was on Head of the Class when I was a kid. I have to admit that because of his delivery, I laughed at things that I shouldn’t have laughed at, and am quite ashamed of myself. When the character wasn’t being profane, he was my favorite by far.
I wouldn’t watch this movie again. The writing is very forced, and the brilliant acting isn’t enough to save this film. Also, the language was quite a bit cruder than it needed to be. Apparently some people think it’s novel and interesting for older people to swear. Why should that be shocking? They’ve had more time to practice at it than anyone else.
The Angelika on the other hand was a great theater. The seats were comfortable, and when outside of the auditorium, I felt like I was at a modern art museum. My favorite part was the mural of all the characters from On The Town. It was so cool! This was also a great offering from them because the ticket included popcorn and champagne. The champagne was wasted on us, but the popcorn was really good. I look forward to trying one of their more deluxe popcorn options in the future, and maybe even one of their haute cuisine hot dogs!