Dustin Hoffman directs! While this is a dubious omen, to be sure (“guy famous for low-key method acting moves behind the camera for the first time at age 75”), the topic of three classical singers famous for their rendition of a Verdi quartet living in an old age home whose life is thrown into hubbub when their estranged fourth appears was sure to be—

Ah, who’m I tryin’ to kid? We went to this somewhat concerned that it would be a slower, more low-key Best Exotic Marigold Hotel—and we were all pleasantly surprised at how lively and entertaining it was. It’s less about music than A Late Quartet, and could just as easily have been about an aged Shakespeare repertory company, or a Star Trek cast reunion, if those guys weren’t dead already.

It’s a simple story. Tom Courtenay (Dr. Zhivago, Leonard Part 6), Pauline Collins (“Upstairs/Downstairs”, “Dr. Who”, Shirley Valentine) and randy old Billy Connolly (Boondock Saints, Brave, “Pale Blue Scotsman”) are living out their final days in a gorgeous English retirement home for old classical musicians, where an annual benefit to raise money to keep the (ridiculously luxurious) place open is being coordinated by Richard Gambon (Professor Dumbledore!).

In between ministering to patients and fending off Connolly, sexy doc Sheridan Scott (whom I kept thinking was Martine McCutcheon from Love, Actually) is preparing to receive their biggest star, Miss Jean Brodie, herself, Maggie Smith. (Or maybe you know her as Minerva McGonnagal). Smith was the fourth in Courtenay, Collins, and Connolly’s quartet, and she was even married to Courtenay. But she ditched them (and him) for a solo career.

What plays out is a fairly standard drama, in terms of loves lost and redemption, but of course played out with some of the finest actors ever recorded on film. Hoffman, with the help of play/screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Pianist, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) keeps the proceedings light and avoids the pitfalls you might expect from an actor’s actor.

You might expect a lot of “big” scenes with a lot of ACTING, but mostly (much like Hoffman’s style) things are subtler. Lots of good quips and catty diva behavior to keep things rolling, and an inescapable poignancy about how our bodies ultimately fail us all, no matter how great our artistry in youth was.

If you’re a regular reader, you know how sour I can get this time of year, with all the cynical and nihilistic award-bating flicks, but, as The Boy says “There’s nothing here to hate.” The Flower was similarly entertained.

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