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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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Nativity of St. John the Baptist: Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John....” But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). 
<p>John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life. </p><p>His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His Baptism, he said, was for repentance. But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). </p><p>John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14b). But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15b). Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic. </p><p>The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people (“all Judea”) to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus. </p><p>Perhaps John’s idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus. For whatever reason, he sent his disciples (when he was in prison) to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (chapters 49 through 53). John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us pray to Our Lady, that she may protect us. In times of spiritual upset, the safest place is within the folds of her garments.

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