House of Waxing On and On
Starring: Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
Dour expressions, plunking piano keys, swansong speeches and misty-eyed stares characterize the barely palpitating heart of Dustin Hoffman’s directorial opus, Quartet. The aforementioned film is about the follies and illusions of talented men and women, once in the limelight of the opera, who are now figureheads of a retirement home for musicians. Prima donnas, raucous hearts and ambling, wary feet comprise the group of once famous musicians that now reside in the semi-ornate Beecham House. Most of the rickety, retired opera members are staunch, monochrome and without humor except for the colorful, carbonated Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the hardened, stiff Joan Horton (Maggie Smith) floats through the mansion on a cloud of hubris.
Connolly’s raspy, floral Scottish accent launches playful, sometimes perverse, quips down the halls of Beecham. Connolly is charismatic and energetic, as he always is, and is the only oasis in an otherwise dry, lifeless film. Meanwhile Maggie Smith, practically reprising her role from last year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, once again plays the sharp grouch whose barbed heart and a forked tongue causes rifts with her warm hearted peers. Yawn.
In between tepid and snooze-worthy dialogue, we’re given the stagnate view of the Beecham House. The set design must have been done by the producers of Antique Road Show. Innumerable amounts of hospital gown colored recliners, horizontally striped armchairs, off-burgundy sofas and wilted flower wallpaper are strewn throughout this haughty retirement home. Imagine spending two hours in a dusty thrift store while someone tells you catty anecdotes about their deceased friends. There is a sense of suffocation that is so intense you may think you‘re huffing asbestos. Quartet is like an episode of Myth Busters that challenges you that it’s possible to drown in floral patterns. Imagine many other damning sentences here.
Ultimately, Quartet is a warehouse full of rumination and keening from characters that we know nothing about. Hoffman hints and nudges at these people’s storied, illustrious, sometimes bruised, pasts and expects us to have unbridled empathy for their continued plights in their old age. The problem is that we never spent any time with them, during their episodic youth, to care. Quartet is akin to walking in on the weepy finale of a film you’ve never seen and expecting to feel connected with it. Connolly is great in the film, but he would be great crushing cans at a recycling center, so that’s not saying much. The rest of the cast is lukewarm and the script is like staring down the barrel of a Benadryl bottle.