Quartet

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The plot takes place in Beecham House, a retirement home for gifted musicians, patterned after the real-life Casa di Riposo per Musicisti founded by Giuseppe Verdi.

Reg, Wilf and Cissy are retired former opera singers who often worked together in the past; among other guests in the house are Cedric Livingstone, a former director, and Diva Anne Langley. All the guests in the retirement home continue to be engaged in their former profession in one way or the other, which gives place to lots of amusing times in the home, but also some rivalries amongst the musicians.

Finances threaten closure of the home but proceeds from a yearly gala concert on Verdi’s birthday hold hope for a continuation of the place. However Cedric has been rather desperate due to the fact that some of the most prominent singers have either died or decided not to participate at all. Amongst the former collaborations between Reg, Wilf and Cissy, there is a particularly popular recording of Rigoletto, which is very prominent amongst opera buffs as THE Rigoletto of the after-war era.

Most of the guests in the home also teach young visitors in their different fields, by giving violin, piano or clarinet lessons, in Reg’s case it is lessons about opera. At the suggestion of Wilf, Reg compares opera to rap music, in order to make it more accessible to his students to amazing results, since whereas in opera the performers sing about their impending death, rappers talk about it in rhyme.

News buzzes around that a new guest will be arriving that very day. The new guest turns out to be none other than Jean Horton, the missing soprano of the Rigoletto recording and Reg’s former wife, who ended their relationship on very sour terms. Reg is furious at the arrival of Jean, because he had specifically requested that all new guests should be sanctioned by him, particularly Jean, whom he would have never admitted into the home.

Jean tries at first unfruitfully to mend things with Reg and in the ensuing conversations her infidelity arises as well as her past marriages but Reg comes to understand that all that is past. In the meantime, Wilf and Cissy convince Cedric that reuniting the Rigoletto quartet for the Verdi Gala shall bring all the necessary income to save the home. Enchanted with the idea they convince Reg first to yield his objections to perform with Jean again, however she is a different case, she has given up singing a long time ago and has decided never to utter a note again, because her career ended in rather uneasy terms because of the critiques.

Cissy takes the CD of their old recording to Jean to hear and inspire her to sing again, but Jean becomes violent and attacks Cissy, which only aggravates her already delicate senile condition. After recovery, Jean apologises and is finally convinced to sing in the quartet from Rigoletto, “Bella figlia dell’amore”, after learning that Anne Langley shall be singing “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca, to which she answers “over my dead body”. The group prepares for their performance and moments before their curtain call, Cissy is about to walk out the door, saying that she has to go back to her family (who are all already dead), but Jean manages to salvage the situation. During her conversation with Cissy, Jean comes to regret all the misdeeds she did to Reg and admits that she is still in love with him, which is overheard by Reg.

Just as the recital is about to start, the director of the home is amazed at the energy displayed by the guests of the home, for whom the idea to rehearse and play before an audience, brings life back to them, leading her to the conclusion that old age and art go together. As they are about to enter the stage, Reg asks Jean to marry him again.

REVIEW:

Man, when I get old and senile and need to be put into a retirement home, please let it be like the one in Quartet, instead of the ones we see and hear horror stories about. Hmmm…I wonder why no one has made a horror movies based on a retirement home, yet? Anyway, let me warn you now, if you’re not a fan of opera, or at least can stand it, you’d probably be best avoiding this film.

What is this about? A trio of retired opera singers’ annual celebration of Verdi’s birthday sours when their estranged fourth member shows up but refuses to sing. Tensions rise and diva drama erupts — will personal problems prevent the show from going on?

What did I like?

Dirty old man. Let me guess, you were expecting to see a bunch of old fogeys sitting around playing canasta and listening to some ancient radio playing a USO show from when they were young, right? Well, that isn’t the case…sort of. There are some sitting around listening to the radio, but remember this is apparently a retirement home for musicians, so they’re listening to themselves or practicing. Still, all that could end up being rather boring. Enter Billy Connolly as a dirty old man. His character brings in some much-needed comic relief and brightens up what could very well be a rather dull film. Is it wrong that every time I see this guy, I get him confused with John Cleese, even though they don’t really look alike?

Friendship. Even after years apart, it warmed my heart to see these performers reunite and rekindle their friendships, even after some time and harsh words. Good friends are hard to find, especially the kind that would be willing to still perform with you some 30 or so years later. I wonder if anyone I’ve played will want to do a gig in about 30 yrs.

Discussion. Fairly early on, there is a discussion about opera and rap. Now, as we all know, no one listens to opera, anymore. That is also touched on. Apparently, the rich people got their hands on it and made it into something it isn’t, which is something that I never studied in my music history classes, but will look into at some future point. As far as the rap and opera discussion, it is best left to be seen. Let’s just say it makes total sense and no way in a million years would anyone have though to compare the two, and yet this film does so. I’m sure there’s a clip on Youtube somewhere.

What didn’t I like?

Hybrid. I love Maggie Smith. I think she is a great talent, but I felt she could have done something more with this character, rather than just have been an amalgamation of her roles on Downton Abbey and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, just without the blatant racist overtones. I’m not saying this was a bad character, but there comes a point where and actor starts to be typecast based on the roles they play, and it looks like Maggie Smith is nearing that time, but hey, at least we got to hear Professor McGonagall say “fuck”!

Senile. I commend this film for not going overboard with any kind of age-related “humor”, however, I think they held it back just a wee bit more than they should have. I could totally have seen Billy Connolly’s character having a field day with insults, jabs, and other lewd comments regarding the age and condition of some of is fellow housemates. I felt gipped that we didn’t get that, though.

Music. The final scene has the big build up and the audience is expecting an epic operatic quartet to be sung. It is the title, after all. We don’t get that, though. The credits start rolling first. Before you go crazy about that, remember that none of these leads are singers. Would you really want them to sing butcher this music? I know that I wouldn’t. If they weren’t going to have them sing, they should have come up with something more than just going to the credits.

On the surface, Quartet, a film about aging opera singers in a retirement home, would be a run-of-the mill boring drama. Instead, it turns out to be a fairly light-hearted dramedy that is quite the cute little picture. As I stated in the opening, if you’re not an opera fan, you’re probably not going to fully appreciate this, but I still highly recommend it, so check it out!

4 out of 5 stars

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