Playing with Emotions

Have you seen Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet? Set in the gorgeous English countryside, it is a wonderful film about the residents of a retirement home for musicians. When the facility is in danger of closing, one of the residents comes up with the brilliant money-making idea of reuniting four aging opera singers for an upcoming musical gala. There are obstacles of various natures, of course. The movie stars Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, and Tom Courtenay.

The acting is superb. Many scenes are backed by a lush score of classical music. The setting will have you dreaming of retiring to a residence like Beecham House. What I particularly appreciate, though, is the work of screenwriter Ronald Harwood. With grace and humor he realistically portrays the concerns and health issues older people face without drifting into maudlin territory. He provides an emotionally satisfying story without playing on the audience’s emotions. Screenwriters and novelists sometimes work hard to make us cry with sudden, unnecessary turns in the plot. We’ve all seen those movies and read those books. Perhaps I’m spoiling the movie a bit by telling you Mr. Harwood avoids those cheap shot twists. Instead, he affirms the value of life even when a person has a diminished memory, experiences difficulty in their movements, or has seen their talent dimmed.

Mr. Harwood proves that creating tear-jerking moments for the sake of wringing tears from the audience is unnecessary when the writer remains committed to portraying the full humanity of their characters. Audiences identify best with these characters and find fulfillment in their stories.

This is an important lesson that I will keep close as I continue on in my writing career.

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