Sunday, 6 January 2013

Review: Quartet

World of Blackout Film Review

Quartet Poster

Cert: 12A / 97 mins / Dir. Dustin Hoffman

Hoffman's idea of direction is apparently letting the entire cast turn up and smirk over their lines. He seems torn between wanting to make a warm, twee comedy about people adapting to their later years, and showing us that the supporting cast are actual retired musicians. As a result, he concentrates on neither and we get a right old mess. Only Maggie Smith and Pauline Collins seem to have any idea why they're there. The first act is butchered down to 20 minutes, the third lacks any of the drama or emotion required, leaving a second act that couldn't drag any more if it wore a gold lamé dress, false lashes and started singing Hey Big Spender to a stag party.

Anyway, I've made a list of the reasons that it's not fucking well good enough...

• If the home (which is run as a charity, not privately funded by its residents) was cutting costs and facing closure, why would they even accept Jean as a resident, knowing she'd be moved on with the others anyway? As it turns out, the Gala Concert saves the day, and apparently a room containing no more than 100 punters paying "Covent Garden Prices" is enough to fund the home indefinitely. Don't get me wrong, we're never on the edge of our seats - The potential closure of the home is referred to twice, and defusing of this is referred to once. What should be a major plot point is barely an addendum in the script.

• There's a clunking, out-of-place, scene in the first act where Billy Connolly's Wilf: walks across a room, pauses, looks all concerned and clutchy-chest ill, says 'No, I'll... I'll be fine' and then walks on. This is never referred to again. We (the audience) think 'oh, that'll be coming back later to throw a spanner in the works!, but no. After that he's just leery and inappropriate as usual, walking with a stick but otherwise perfectly healthy.

• In an actual Scriptwriter's Boomerang scene, one of the (supporting-role) residents is seen in a summer-house-type-thing playing his clarinet when he clutches his chest, takes a pill, drops the rest of the pills, then shares a concerned look with Wilf as the medication takes effect. Again, we think 'Well, that's a funeral we'll be seeing in a moment of pathos later in the film!', and it does rear its head again, but only when the chap in question is taken to hospital one morning a few days later (much to the concern of the breakfast room), and is then never referred to again.

• Tom Courtenay's Reginald has trouble adapting the modern world (even though he's not illustrated as 'living in the past' like his contemporaries are, somehow). This is crystalised into him trying to "understand Rap Music"; namely reading a highly simplified web-page that doesn't exist and having an awkward conversation with "A Youth" who's there as part of the home's Understanding Opera course for "youths who appear to take no interest in opera". After a thoroughly embarassing 'Hey, we're not so different, you and I' tête-à-tête, Tom is, I can only assume, Down With The Kids. There is no reason for him to want to understand The Rap, and his newfound knowledge is not utilised in any way. This thread is never referred to again (although the aforementioned Youth does appear in the audience of the Gala Concert, presumably paying Covent Garden Prices for his ticket).

• In the final act, we're waiting for some hitherto unforseen revelation about Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay's past that'll lead to the last-minute 'Oh! But they're about to go on-stage!!!' tension. This doesn't happen. Instead, those two are wrapped up with next to no actual resolution, and Pauline Collins' Cissy goes from "forgetful and slightly dotty" to "full-on Alzheimer's" over the course of ten minutes, threatening to derail the finalé-performance. But it's okay, Jean talks her round and everything is fine and they do the concert the end.

'Hello? Is that Michael Gambon? I'm casting a new film which is sort of St Trinian's with pensioners, and wondered if you could come in to play a supporting role as a sort of comic-relief, sweary, bad-tempered Dumbledore? ...No, that's literally all you'll have to do. You can? brilliant!' *click*

• There's been much said in the pre-release press about the supporting cast of Quartet being actual retired musicians and singers. To be honest, it adds a nice air of authenticity to the musical performances, but it also underlines the fact that they're not retired actors. Ne'er mind. However, to pay tribute to these good folks, the closing credits of the film are run alongside then-and-now pictures of the them, detailing achievements in their careers (eg English National Opera, Royal Philharmonic, what have you). As the credits roll, this is giving a great insight to these 'anonymous' performers, until the actual cast start being listed as well. They show a photo of the young Andrew Sachs with the credit 'Fawlty Towers, 1975-79'. Er.. I fucking know who Andrew Sachs is. I don't think we need him listed with the unknown talent, do we? And if you must do that, wouldn't you quote part of his stage career, rather than the role he played as a comedy waiter in the 1970's? They haven't used a photo of him from that era, so why that credit? I love Fawlty Towers as much as the next guy, but it's not exactly the Royal National Ballet, is it? In the context of this film, it's largely fucking irrelevant, in fact.

• Why is the pre-press propping the director 'Academy Award Winner Dustin Hoffman' when the pre-press is also pointing out that it's his directorial debut? That'd be like having a plumber arrive at your house who's never installed a toilet before, but he has got a 'Gold 50 Metres Swimming Award!'. Pretty much irrelevant to the job in hand, especially as Quartet suggests Hoffman would have trouble directing traffic on a one-way street.

I expect better from everyone involved, with the possible exception of Smith, and even she's on autopilot.

Is the trailer representative of the film?

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?

And because you won't be happy until I've given it a score...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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