Grab some prunes and make a fresh cup of decaf tea, cause this week’s list is all about the old folks. We’ll be navigating the world of the weary and the wise, the land of dentures and Depends, the kingdom of geezers and grannies.
Number 7 on the list is…
Directed by Dustin Hoffman
Written by Ronald Harwood
Starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, and Michael Gambon
Available to stream on Netflix
Quartet takes place in an unforgettable location, the kind of place I had no idea even existed. It’s a retirement home for all manner of musicians. And they’re all as old as dirt. There are plenty of personalities around the property, but the story is concerned mainly with complicated ex-lovers Jean and Reggie, the crude and carefree Wilf, and their friend Cissy, who is slowly losing her memory. These characters make up the quartet of the title. As the story begins the characters of the home are preparing for an annual concert to celebrate the birthday of composer Giuseppe Verdi. But when Jean arrives, she brings plenty of drama and baggage to the scene and the success of the concert is threatened.
The plot is nothing new or extraordinary, but the characters are brilliant. Young people like myself often view our elders in one of two ways. Either we see them as helpless, pitiful, and cute or as crotchety, crude, and bothersome. The thought of getting old makes us sad. But movies like Quartet make me feel more envy than anything. I see this group of old farts, this amazing group of friends, and I realize they have built things I haven’t even dreamt of–lifelong relationships, epic memories, love stories, war stories, and all other manner of adventures. But what is really striking about this movie is the way the characters are still building these things. Half of them can’t even get up the stairs on their own, but they continue to invest in their friends and their future. Quartet reminds us that our grandparents still have hopes, dreams, and fears. It doesn’t reach for profundity through a solemn contemplation of mortality, but it finds it anyway through the honest depiction of its characters. We see their little joys, pains, triumphs, and defeats and we begin to cheer for them. As they gear up for the final performance, there is a kind of sweeping grandeur that takes over. We’ve seen the pieces put together in the first two acts–romantic conflicts resolved, doubts surmounted–and the story final swells to its climax. Here and there it occasionally dips into melodrama, but we smile at its heartwarming effect.
Quartet works wonders on a relational level, but its other major strength is its humor. When I pressed play on this movie, I wasn’t expecting even half the laughter I was in for. It is side-splitting. In particular, Billy Connolly’s character Wilf is a non-stop source of equal parts wit and vulgarity. He’s proof that a seasoned performer plus diarrhea of the mouth is a perfect formula for laughter. This movie was a fun, sweet, and ultimately uplifting story that I will find myself returning to over and over again. And I imagine it will get better as I approach the age of the characters themselves.