So, Maggie Smith arrives at Beecham House to the varying delight of former operatic colleagues Pauline Collins (comic ditherer), Billy Connelly (randy old goat), and Michael Gambon (nasty old queen), as well as the initial dismay of Tom Courtenay as the ex-husband whose heart she carelessly broke. Naturally, the joint is in danger of closure and can only be saved by the starry new arrival's participation in an annual charity performance. Yes, it's just like the plot of Roller Boogie (1979), and every other hoary "Let's put on a show to save the [blank]" exercise. You know just what's going to happen — "How dare you!" turns to "Oh, all right then" turns to triumph, although the film (like the play) cheats by declining to actually show us that triumph — and it does, on cue, for 98 digestion-easing minutes.
There's certainly nothing wrong with providing vehicles for beloved older actors — but why does it always have to be this kind of vehicle, bland as toast and no more nutritious? Even Dame Maggie Smith doesn't seem particularly interested; no doubt she'd like to play someone to whom the adjective "bitchy" doesn't apply once in a while. The classical canon is full of great roles for fully mature actors. But for the movies, it seems, after a certain point you only get to play silly old dears or bitter crones. There's got to be room for something between condescending trifles like Quartet and the bleak staring-death-in-the-face of Amour.
QUARTET opens Fri/25 in Bay Area theaters.