01/26/2013 11:26 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Popcorn Preview: Quartet

Film: Quartet (2012)
Cast includes: Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), Tom Courtenay (The Golden Compass), Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints), Pauline Collins (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), Michael Gambon (Harry Potter (series))
Writer: Ronald Harwood (The Pianist)
Director: Dustin Hoffman (Directorial debut)
Genre: Comedy | Drama (98 minutes)

The Beechem House for retired musicians is always alive with music, but today it's "Brindisi," the popular operatic drinking song. "No. No. No. The gala's only a month away, and we're nowhere near ready," screams Cedric, whose demeanor seems more like a rabid fascist dictator than a music director. The house is a grand old English estate, and the proceeds from the galas help keep it going. It's a democracy at Beechem House, but sometimes you'd hardly know it... like when another resident tries to sit at the window table. Reggie, Wilf and Cissy always claim the table by the window... and that just the way it is. In the midst of all the drama over the gala, it almost goes unnoticed that there's a new resident coming. Jean Horton is a wreck... "I can't do this. Stop!" she tells the driver. "Why are we stopping?" she asks when he stops. Jean has a history with quite a few of Beechem's residents... a lot of old professional rivalries and another troubling issue we'll soon learn about. But much to her surprise (and relief), she get's a standing ovation when she enters.

Heartwarming as it is, there's still that other issue... one of her former husbands, Reggie, lives here. "I should have been consulted," Reggie insists. "Now I'll have to find somewhere else to live." There's no way for Jean and Reggie to avoid each other forever... but can they coexist? "We'll just have to grin and bear it," he says. "What ever happened to forgive and forget?" she asks. Anyway, sulking is impossible because Cissy... bless her... is both kindhearted and a bit senile. She wants everyone to be friends. Wilf occasionally takes time off from his main interest, soliciting "rumpy pumpy," to help guide his best friend, Reggie, through an emotional meltdown. In the meantime, Cedric has just had a brilliant idea. Now that Jean's here, the world-famous quartet from Rigoletto is complete... and if Reggie, Wilf, Cissy and Jean will perform it at the gala, it'll be the biggest draw ever. Out of the question! Jean's Gilda was perhaps the most outstanding ever, and there's no way she's going to let anyone hear what's become of her legendary voice.

Quartet is one part narrative about living life to the fullest, one part Monty Python, and one part musical romp. The music isn't just opera, although opera is an important part of the story. There's jazz, hip-hop, rock, Broadway and even salsa. In typical British comedic form, the funny bits sometimes come at us so fast, it's hard to catch them all. Even though much of the humor is about aging, there are thankfully no clichéd old-age stereotypes in this film. The characters aren't in denial about age, but they're not ready to throw in the towel either. This is Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, and he's done an amazing job with the British humor and the British style of story telling, which is distinctly different from its American cousin. For one thing, you've got to pay attention if you don't want to miss important moments. It's a first-rate cast of actors, as well as, actual retired musicians. (Be sure to stay for the credits to see who's who.) This is certainly a film you could see more than once. Not only is it tremendously fun... every line is packed with layers of meaning. When Jean talks about smelling the roses, the ditsy Cissy sets her straight... "Oh dear. The roses are long gone. But the chrysanthemums are very nice." And so they are.

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
When an elderly opera diva moves into a retirement home for musicians, there are old revelries to settle and fences to mend

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Jubilant
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: Irreverent
Social Significance: Pure entertainment &Thought provoking

Read more Popcorn Previews at

You may want to read about other films with Maggie Smith:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Gosford Park

A Private Function