Directed by: Dustin Hoffman
In Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut (yes, you read that right), he crafts a smart, funny, entertaining, and endearing tale of three aging friends who have long-since retired and moved into a retirement home, and are unexpectedly joined by a fourth friend whom they haven’t seen in ages, whose presence changes everything. Lifelong friends Wilf (Connolly) and Reggie (Tom Courtenay), together with former colleague Cissy (Collins), are currently residing in Beecham House, a home in the English countryside for retired opera singers. Each year on the birthday of Italian romantic composer, Giuseppe Verdi, the residents come together in order to perform a concert in order to raise funds for their home.
This year, just prior to the event a former grande dame of the opera who has fallen on hard times, Jean Horton, (Smith), unexpectedly moves into Beecham House the plans for the concert begin to unravel. Part of the reason for this is not only was she such a great star of the opera, and something of a royal diva, but she is also Reggie's ex-wife, with whom he is still muchly in love. As can be expected, her presence ignites old grudges which threaten to undermine the show’s rehearsal schedule, as past glories, theatrical temperaments, and unrequited emotions play havoc with, the residents of the home.
While it is safe to say that none of these aging performers has arrived at Beecham House without their egos it soon becomes crystal clear that having four of the finest singers in English operatic history under one roof offers no guarantee that the show will actually go on. As each of the four friends must deal with their own issues and ego; Reggie who never quite got over his abiding love for his former wife, Wilf who hates growing old as his raging id has difficulty accepting the limitations of his aging body, Cissy who is sweet and loving, but age has turned into something of a dingbat, and of course Jean who not only sees moving in to the home as a step down in social status, but soon realizes that she must now deal with the other residents, as well as Reggie himself.
The film works on many levels from the interaction of the characters, to the outstanding music to the layered performances of the actors themselves. Perhaps the best part of the film is that most (if not all of the retired performers) are actually retired musicians who have been tapped to perform roles similar to those they performed in real life — a fact that becomes evident when the credits roll and you see photos of the actors and their younger selves along with their musical credits. In a sea of films about vampires, zombies, aliens and stuff that blow up, this one is a human-interest, story-driven gem of great value that is about actual characters, and totally deserves to be watched.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web.