Last night we went to see Quartet, which represents Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut and stars, among others, the illustrious Maggie Smith. The setting is a home for aging musicians somewhere in England, located on a Downtown Abbey-like estate staffed with Afro-Caribbean caregivers, a French tart of a waitress, and a Gen X generation actress who resembles Lindsay Lohan (if she were to get sufficient calories) as the doctor who runs the place. The plot centers on a forthcoming musical revue in which many residents will star and which, if pulled off properly, will restore the finances of the exquisite home.
It’s a little jewel of a film, starting out slow but unfolding, flower-like, to affirm the spiritual sustenance of the arts, the legacy of friendship, and the potential to grow at any point in one’s life, including the possibility of finding renewed love and the promise of marriage in one’s golden years. Yet, despite the attempts of various characters to bemoan the indignities of aging, the movie is a fantasy. In this home for the aged, there are virtually no signs of medical equipment; the elderly move through the day well dressed and, for the women, in immaculate make up; and the “doctor” (it’s never made clear if she is a medical doctor or some other variety) exists solely, it appears, to tend with calm compassion and fetching glamour to the emotional flare-ups of residents. For anyone who has actually provided care (for the aged, the sick, or the young), it is especially bizarre to see this doctor at work in fragile silk tops that are never mussed. In the world of Quartet, a brain-damaging stroke makes a Scottish cad all the more charming, and onset of dementia makes a great opera singer unfailingly kind.
One wonders, what about this particular story attracted Hoffman for his first time out as a director? Perhaps he, like the rest of us, would love to grow old in a world of rumpled beauty in which, even as short-term memory fades, artistic gifts and friendship never leave you. If it’s realism you’re after, go elsewhere. For a reverie, see Quartet.