Quartet, the directorial debut of actor Dustin Hoffman, would make for a good companion piece to last year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Both are bland, sleepy takes on British retirees in unique locales, and both feature Maggie Smith as a cranky old woman whose hard exterior softens once she embraces her new circumstances. In Quartet, Smith is legendary opera singer Jean Horton, who reluctantly comes to live at a home for retired musicians. There she reunites with three former collaborators, including her ex-husband Reggie (Tom Courtenay), and they try to convince her to perform at a gala fundraiser for the home.
Despite the supposedly looming threat of the home’s closing, and the unresolved feelings between Jean and Reggie, Quartet has essentially no dramatic stakes. It’s so low-key that it’s soporific, and although the performances are spirited (Billy Connolly, as a randy old codger who hits on all the nurses, and Pauline Collins, as a chipper ditz, round out the main foursome), the characters are pretty thinly drawn. The plotting is predictable and convenient (one character’s dementia kicks in only when it’s dramatically appropriate), and the humor is weak.
Hoffman’s direction is smooth and unremarkable, opening up the story a bit from its stage origins (Ronald Harwood wrote the screenplay based on his play) but never taking it in any unexpected or creative directions. His cast full of old pros ensures that Quartet goes down easy, but it leaves no impression once it’s over.