Quartet ***½ (PG-13) Every "mature" viewer who enjoyed last year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel can confidently line up for this ticket. What you’ll get is another gentle comedy among the retirement set showcasing a fine ensemble cast of actors from Great Britain. Both include Maggie Smith. This one also features Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay, under the direction of Dustin Hoffman. The setting is a retirement home for musicians that’s fallen on hard times. The revenue from their annual concert just might be their last hope for saving the venerable institution for its venerable occupants. Most are there because it’s all they can afford, just as the seniors in the other film saw that Indian facility as their Final Frontier, setting up their only choices - harmony or homeless.
The intrigue here is whether some of the members of a once-lauded operatic quartet can get past some old wounds and newer anxieties for a reunion performance on the birthdate of Giuseppe Verdi (as Victor Borge noted, Joe Green, in English). The market value of that attraction would apparently bring in more than enough to keep the place solvent, The principals provide a nice mix of personalities and backstories for warmth, humor and pathos. Connolly’s roguish flirting is the source of most of the chuckles. Collins, perhaps best known here for Shirley Valentine, finishes second on the comedic contribution list. Smith plays a diva whose reticence presents the greatest obstacle to putting on the show the gray-haired longhairs need.
The music is pleasing; the actors are still in fine fettle. Hoffman steers them at a pace that evokes empathy without milking the sentimental side. The reliable old pros on both sides of the camera deliver another first-rate product. Anglophiles and trivia buffs who recall a 1981 film with the same title starring Smith and Alan Bates should be advised that there’s no other relation between the two stories. (1/25/13)