Movie-going seniors seem to have an insatiable appetite for other old folks on film.
Take Quartet, the new film by Dustin Hoffman about an English retirement home full of geriatric musicians. It has been screened recently in Guelph, and everyone I know over 65 has seen it or has tried to see it. They have lined up for the movie, have been turned away, and have come back the following night. This has been happening every day, unabated, for two weeks. I suspect that word of mouth has propelled interest in this movie. We are rushing to get tickets, much the way we all stampeded to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel because of our friends' enthusiasm.
The appeal of Marigold Hotel and Quartet is not just their veteran star-power, however. (It must surely be a coincidence that Maggie Smith and her arthritic hips are a plot point in each.) These films both understand the importance of positive outcomes, and older viewers like uplifting. They like happy -- not over-the-top happy -- but happy-within-reason. And why not? At 65+ we know that our options are dwindling. If, like Forrest Gump, we are still choosing from life's chocolate box, we'd prefer to believe that there still a few Belgian truffles waiting for us. Or hard centres. Or something good. And therein lies the appeal of Quartet.
It is inconceivable that this film will end badly. Will the annual Verdi gala save Beauchamp House for Retired Musicians from financial ruin? Will the four delightful (and slightly dotty) retired opera greats pull off a decent performance of the quartet from Rigoletto? Will they remember the words? And do the elderly, disaffected lovers finally make up? Of course. Of course!
Yes, there are inconsistencies -- that afternoon of music isn't going to pay for lawn service let alone pay down the mortgage-- but niggles that flit at the edge of our consciousnesses are easily dismissed. We are so seduced by the charm and wit of this film that we believe, absolutely, that everything will turn out well. That we do not actually hear the quartet from Rigoletto, matters not one bit. We believe that the performance is successful. We imagine it, and that is enough. And we tell our friends "You must see Quartet! It is such fun. It will make you feel good!"
But the best aspect of Quartet has nothing to do with the triumph of imagination over logic. What really sends viewers out of the theatre smiling is as concrete as the final credits. All those elderly musicians populating the Beauchamp in minor roles are the real deal. They lend the picture credibility as one after the other is pictured in their Beauchamp persona (the pianist, the clarinet player, the opera singer...) and as they appeared at the start of their actual music careers. It is is a large cast, too--the musical seniors outnumber everyone else 30 to one. It warms one's heart to see all those older faces scrolling by.
Quartet delivers genuine sweetness and uplift. The box of chocolates still holds promise.