Is it me, or did Maggie Smith somehow manage to become the world’s biggest and most beloved movie star right under our noses? She is literally everywhere these days, from Harry Potter and Downton Abbey to Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet. It might just be time to do the unthinkable and officially knock off Tom Cruise from his elevated position as the World’s Biggest Movie Star. Everyone seems to want Dame Maggie Smith these days . . . and if the box office flop that was Jack Reacher is any indication, we’ve had our fill of Mr. Tom Scientology Cruise.
Okay, okay, I’ll stop bashing Jerry Maguire. But seriously: when did Maggie Smith become her own cottage industry? She’s like the international version of Betty White. Only fouler. Much, much fouler. Like the dowager of Downton Abbey and the prissy retiree of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Maggie Smith is everyone’s favorite grouchy old woman. She tells it like it is, without any care for what others might think or how their sensibilities might be hurt. She’s Sophia from The Golden Girls (hello again, Betty White!) only with a classier and meaner streak. Yeowch.
Hoffman’s directorial debut has her playing Jean Horton, a retired singer who descends upon a home for retirees known as Beecham House. As soon as Jean arrives, her sharp wit and merciless tongue makes the other retirees wonder if their haven should not instead have been christened Bitch’em House, because she turns the place upside down. She is reunited (much against her will) with her old singing partner. Their relationship in decades-old tatters, they must find a way to put aside their differences and sync their vocals for the Beecham House Gala Concert. (Side note: they should try to remake this with Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj in 30 or so years).
The movie is a bit too adorable for its own good at times, even when it tries to be all stuffy and British. The music is the movie’s saving grace, allowing the actors to really belt out their emotions in ways that you might not expect from an actor like Dustin Hoffman. To Hoffman’s credit, the cast is really allowed to shine, especially Maggie Smith, who proves once again that she isn’t just a born scene stealer. She’s turned scene domination into a cottage industry.