Dir. Dustin Hoffman
(2012, PG-13, 98 minutes)

Quartet comes only a few months after the release of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and it’s more or less the same movie. Veteran British actors are assembled to play elderly residents of a retirement home, which is at risk of closing if funds aren’t raised. The characters are mostly broad comic types with occasional touches of melancholy. The tone is an easygoing blend of sitcom and sentiment. Maggie Smith shows up in both.

But I like Quartet a bit better. Its performances are similarly appealing, but its screenplay – written by Pianist and Diving Bell and the Butterfly scribe Ronald Harwood, based on his play – strains less in its second half. The earlier film relied on contrivances to resolve its storylines while this one glides more naturally towards the finish line. It’s the feature directorial debut of actor Dustin Hoffman, and it indicates a capable filmmaker making a relaxed first attempt and not taking any chances.

Smith stars as Jean, a once-renowned opera singer who reluctantly moves into a home for retired musicians. Already living there are the former members of her celebrated quartet: Wilf (Billy Connolly), Cissy (Pauline Collins), and Reginald (Tom Courtenay). Reginald does not react well to Jean’s arrival; they were married way back when, and it ended badly.

Wilf has a brain condition that impairs his social inhibitions and loosens his tongue enough for him to deliver cheeky one-liners. Cissy is cheery but fragile, suffering from senility. The rest of the cast is populated by other characters with broad comic personae, some of them played, as the end credits reveal, by actual veteran musicians.

The film doesn’t demand much from its exemplary cast, or its audience for that matter. It’s pleasant. Like the opera singers they play, the film doesn’t represent the actors’ best work, but it’s nice to see them take the stage.