Dustin Hoffman’s first time behind the camera is an adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play of the same name. Harwood wrote the screenplay, and also wrote that of ‘The Pianist’ (02) and ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ (07) amongst others, and the two artists seemed to have gelled well together, producing a sentimental, reflective piece on the vagaries of growing old. It follows very much in the same vein as ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ (11), and those who enjoyed that will not be disappointed here. However, by focusing on four main characters, and two of those a little more intimately, this has a neater, more personal feel to it.
It centres on a retirement home for musicians, and the four in question are played by Tom Courtenay, Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins. All of the cast are fantastic, indeed much of the support is made up of actual musicians and a nice tribute to them all plays during the credits. A little bit of a fuss has been made over this film being a fairly small scale one going on a wide cinematic release and going toe-to-toe with blockbusters, but frankly if a film has an engaging story and good performances then it is entirely justified in being given a wide release in theatres, and it’s a little misleading to suggest this is the only film out there doing just that.
If I was to criticise something, then it would be that some of the comedy feels a little too obvious, and perhaps the delivery on occasion could have done with a couple of more takes but it’s a small quibble really. Hoffman’s direction feels a little off kilter in places but seems to settle as the film goes on, and his use of classical music and the instruments themselves as a fifth main character, splicing everything together, works well. A certain decision was made toward the end, which makes sense in terms of the filmmakers’/writer’s options, but nevertheless will disappoint audiences a little. Not withstanding that though, it’s the main cast’s ability to engage our empathy that really make this an emotional gem.