Sunday, March 24, 2013

Quartet (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


One look at this English country residence in "Quartet” and you can definitely see what's coming even before the dames appear. From the great Dustin Hoffman we have a pleasing enough idyll. Here are two divas and two gents placed with all the comfortable precision of a drawing room comedy and the argentine angst is never far from "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" sans the acrobatics of Dev Patel.

We are treated again to the ubiquitous Maggie Smith as she enters an elegant home for retired musicians, a place of happy bedlam and cozy grumpiness where no one stays mad at each other for all that long.  And there are plenty of easeful doses of quips and languid lasciviousness banter. 

Joined by Maggie Smith who plays the opera diva Jean Horton, are seasoned actors Tom Courtenay as quartet singer Reg, and Billy Connolly as his friend Wilf. There is also Michael Gambon as an Oscar Wilde type and veteran actor Pauline Collins from "Upstairs Downstairs" as the whimsical Cissy.

Suffice to say these gentrified eccentrics are playfully ensconced in Beecham House, singing, laughing, yelling and joking, attempting to get a benefit together. Billy Connelly has the aura of a nonchalant and irreverent lion with a bit of Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce. He thinks of sex constantly but his portrayal is never rude. His man Wilf may have an edge from The Devil's Dictionary but he is actually a cuddly lion.

Tom Courtenay is fittingly reserved with an air of Roger Moore. Reg is wistful and a bit passive, content to spend time on the lawn reading and teaching music to youngsters who are goo-goo for Lady Gaga.

Everything is thrown in a tizzy (as much as it can be in this easy outing where even illness holds no terrors) when the dragon-like Diva Jean Horton comes to stay. She upsets the placidity of Reg and is known for being a bit of a bitch in Beecham, except she is never really all that mean. Most of the drama centers on Horton as Reg's old flame and her stentorian fussiness has more to do with her weariness of change rather than nastiness. 

It is the strength of the acting here and the verve of Connelly and Collins that saves this film from a "been there, saw that" mezzo soprano of snoozes. The tension is authentic enough to care about the characters while its light silliness is never overbearing or dumbly confining with tired jokes or pratfalls that undermine the narrative.

While Billy Connelly's character and pick up lines about "rumpy-pumpy" and "seasoned wood" are all close copies of Ronald Pickup's role in a certain Indian hotel that was past its prime, the ensemble cast has enough of a subtle flourish to make everything old and congenial seem new again, mostly because we can tell that all of these actors care enough about their co-stars to just have fun.

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