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Susan Granger's review of 'Quartet'

Published 3:05 pm, Friday, January 25, 2013
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Not to be confused with the similarly titled "A Late Quartet," this tart comedy is, essentially, a British film that revives the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland "let's put on a show" formula with great panache.

Set in the bucolic English countryside, Beecham House, an elegant retirement refuge for musicians, is facing dire financial straits just as a new resident unexpectedly moves in. It's famed soloist Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). But she's in no mood to socialize. While her arrival stuns longtime resident Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), her cuckolded-and-heartbroken former husband who now devotes his time to making opera relevant for rappers, it delights ebullient, somewhat senile Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins), her former singing partner. The burning question revolves around whether the haughty, sharp-tongued diva will agree to participate in the upcoming Giuseppe Verdi's birthday fundraising concert with her old cohorts. Observing from the sidelines are perennially lecherous rake Wilfred Bond (Scottish comedian Billy Connolly), egotistically cranky Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon), rival soprano Anne Langley (opera great Gwyneth Jones) and amiably solicitous Dr. Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith).

Scripted by Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist"), who adapted his 1999 "ageing is not for sissies" stage play, it's adroitly directed by Dustin Hoffman, who encouraged his distinguished cast to improvise dialogue, thereby eliciting sensitive, indelibly individualistic performances. The ensemble also includes many real-life musicians, including former Grammy winners and a past conductor of the London symphony, who enthusiastically perform classical selections from "Rigoletto" and "La Traviata," punctuated by Dario Marianelli's effective score. It's worth staying for their salute during the concluding credits.

A recent Kennedy Center Award honoree for acting, Hoffman makes an auspicious directorial debut with this classy, uplifting crowd pleaser, which is reminiscent of Daniel Schmid's 1985 documentary about retired Italian opera singers living together in the Casa Riposo per Musicisti -- a.k.a. "Casa Verdi."

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Quartet" is an endearing, astutely engaging 8, joining "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" in chronicling life's third act.