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Cecily, Reggie, and Wilfred are in a home for retired musicians. Every year, on October 10, there is a concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday and they take part. Jean, who used to be married to Reggie, arrives at the home and disrupts their equilibrium. She still acts like a diva, but she refuses to sing. Still, the show must go on... and it does. Written by
There are two obvious reasons to see this film. One is that it's Dustin Hoffman's directing debut. The other is that any film with Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon is very unlikely to be less than very good.
As it turns out, the film - set in a retirement home for classical musicians - is simply perfect: touching and amusing from the start, with generous but judicious doses of lovely music, shifting gears in an in-obtrusively sure-footed way. Billy Connolly (who was once a presence in my local hang-out) is about as close to his real self here as in any part I've seen him play: ribald, mischievous and large-hearted; the shameless jokester and flirt you nonetheless know you can always depend on. Courtenay is heart-rendingly endearing from the start, in the most quiet, under-stated way. Maggie Smith shows far more range than her now- stock Grande Dame parts usually allow her, including an unaccustomed vulnerability and a charming exercise, at one moment, of calculated yet shy girlish charm.
As one would expect from a director who is a great actor himself, the palette of characters here is vividly and colorfully incarnated by actors who are often memorable even in the most minor parts.
The music is both respectfully and affectionately integrated throughout, moving from noble classical pieces to a cheerful bit of music hall. And is paid a surprising homage in the credits, which continue the film's nod to age and accomplishment well past its not very surprising but still satisfying end.
Very few viewers, by the way, will sense the echos here - but no more - of a lovely French film from 1935 about a retirement home for actors: "La Fin du Jour":
Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist", "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", etc) tells a very different story, but anyone who enjoys this one and understands enough French should certainly seek out the older film (with the great Michel Simon).
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