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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Quartet

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins star in a scene from the movie "Quartet."
Dustin Hoffman steps behind the camera for his directorial debut with "Quartet" (Weinstein), a comedy-drama about musical artists who face the ultimate curtain call: a date with the Grim Reaper.

Based on the play by Ronald Harwood (who also wrote the screenplay), "Quartet" casts senior citizens in the same warm and fuzzy glow as last year's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Amid the gags and catfights, however, lie serious reflections on the challenges of aging and a reminder to embrace the talents of our still-vital elderly.

Beecham House in the picturesque English countryside is a home for retired singers and musicians. As such, it's a haven for eccentrics and outsize egos, ringing true Bette Davis' famous observation, "Old age is not for sissies."

Impresario Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon) corrals the residents to put on a fundraiser every year on composer Giuseppe Verdi's birthday. His dream is to reunite four legendary opera singers who once performed the "Quartet" from Verdi's "Rigoletto."

"It would be as if Maria Callas made her comeback," he predicts.

The ensemble is made up of newly arrived, acid-tongued diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), her gentle ex-husband Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), dotty Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins), who's in the early stages of dementia, and randy rogue Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly). Wilf, as he's known, is forever flirting with the young staff.

All of the singers are keen for the reunion, except Jean, who fears stepping into the spotlight again. "My gift deserted me," she tells Reginald.

"It deserted us all," he says. "It's called life."

Jean has an ulterior motive: to reconcile with Reginald, whom she abandoned for an affair with a rival tenor. She regrets the indiscretion, but Reginald is still bitter.

"I wanted a dignified senility," he muses. "Fat chance now that she's here."

Still, the show must go on, and nothing tempts an aging performer more than the smell of greasepaint and the glare of the footlights.

The salty language in "Quartet" and the script's rather juvenile obsession with sex (it's ripe with British euphemisms like "rumpy-pumpy") distract somewhat from the fun of watching the veteran actors perform as well as from the pleasures afforded by the glorious soundtrack.

The film contains sexual innuendo and some profane and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Elizabeth of Portugal: Elizabeth is usually depicted in royal garb with a dove or an olive branch. At her birth in 1271, her father, Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father, James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality. Thus fortunately prepared, she was able to meet the challenge when, at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose need came to her notice. At the same time she remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was a scandal to the kingdom. 
<p>He, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. She long sought peace for him with God, and was finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son, Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children. She acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. And finally from Coimbra, where she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, she set out and was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, now king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.</p> American Catholic Blog In the name of the Father, use my mind to bring you honor, and of the Son, fill my heart to spread your word, and of the Holy Spirit, strengthen me to carry you out to all the world. Amen.

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