Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut about four old people in a retirement home for classical musicians and singers has some polish, but it is stale, lifeless and often weirdly humourless, like the filmed record of some sort of glossy brochure photoshoot. It should be possible to make a film about old people without condescension, but this sadly isn’t the one. I had similar reservations about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, released earlier this year; at least that had a persistent touch of fun.
Yet here it seems as if Hoffman was overawed by the poshness of all the classical music and Brit thesps. Maggie Smith plays Jean, a haughty former diva who is the newest entrant in this grandest of old people’s homes, where inmates include a bullying old ex-producer called Cedric (Michael Gambon). Here Jean meets three ripe characters, with whom she has some personal history: Reginald (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins). These sprightly souls try to persuade her to swallow her pride and join with them singing the quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto in the forthcoming gala concert, and this plan opens up emotional wounds for all four.
The rigours and deterioration of age are imagined rather vaguely here: apart from being on a hip-replacement waiting list and needing to walk with a stick, Jean seems rather well, and it isn’t quite clear why she needs to be in a home at all. Theoretically, there is plot jeopardy in the home’s looming financial crisis, and the consequent importance of the gala night, yet this just fizzles out: I had expected a major selling point of this movie to be the spectacle of our fearsome foursome belting out Verdi, but this is fudged. Well, it’s a waste of a formidable cast, who are more than capable of energy and zing; Hoffman’s direction just tiptoes respectfully around them. Playing the home’s medical director, Sheridan Smith actually steals the film, just a little, with a quietly affecting final speech. It’s a movie with the atmosphere of a day centre in which the windows are never opened.
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