Last week I went to see a preview of the Quartet (out on New Year’s Day). The premise is that the residents of an old people’s home for retired musicians is preparing their annual bash. Hijinks ensue.
I know it sounds rather boring, and TBH I thought seriously about slipping away before it started to see Twilight a second time instead. But it was free, and my beloved was vehemently opposed to that suggestion so I stayed put.
I soon discovered that I had been wrong. I laughed and bawled my eyes out in equal measure. (Perhaps the weepage was a bit OTT but I was in the process of holiday-relaxing which always gets more dramatic and totes emosh before reaching equilibrium). Perhaps the fact that I didn’t find it boring was precisely the point. Often, elderly people are characterised as irrelevant, irrational, annoying even, and are hardly ever given centre stage, especially not in such great numbers! I feel that in a similar vein to Bridesmaids, this film breaks with the usual way of portraying it’s main characters. They don’t just seem to have been elderly forever but there is a continuity, the central characters have a past, yes, but they also have a present and a future. They have issues, they also have a good laugh.
Some will say that this film glosses over the real difficulties of being old, only touching on them and focussing more on jollity. To be true, amongst other things, the plush country house setting definitely does not pass for a state funded care home, but – why should we always be on our tiptoes when addressing the subject of age? Whilst understanding people’s needs are important, most elderly people I know would rather not have everyone overly dwell, in a somber almost morbid fashion, upon the negatives of the golden years. The main characters in this film just want to get on with being human, and I found that the better ‘serious’ parts of the film were those which dealt with relationship issues – which are universal. In that way it probably meets an older audience on a more level (and fun) playing field rather than something with more age-related angst.
Whilst it’s important that filmmakers explore the negative side of ageing (I am told that Amour does this very well), there’s simply much more to life than that. Just as making a film about 21 year olds does not always need to include comments about recession-induced joblessness, cinematic portrayals of the elderly can be moving and funny without resorting to a negative stereotype.
I thought it was a clever and sweet tribute to the talent and humour that is seldom attributed to the older generation within the public sphere today.
The (soon to be former) Archbish Rowan Williams put it brilliantly in his final speech in the House of Lords this month, saying:
We tolerate a very eccentric view of the good life or the ideal life as one that can be lived only for a few years between, say, 18 and 40.