A musical group is only as good as its performers; the same could be said for an ensemble feature like Yaron Zilberman’s soapy yet ultimately moving drama about a troubled NYC string quartet. The cowriter-director has hired four very strong actors for what sounds, in synopsis, like a nightmare of a Lifetime movie: On the eve of their 25th-anniversary season, the quartet’s cellist, Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken), is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which unleashes a host of resentments among the other members of the group. Second violinist Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sees an opportunity to finally move to first chair. His wife Juliette (Catherine Keener), the quartet’s violist, finds herself growing apart from both Robert and their college-age daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots). And taskmaster first-violinist Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir), wouldn’t you know, is falling for Alexandra, to whom he gives music lessons.
Infidelities occur, screaming matches are had, and languorous shots of a wintry Manhattan overemphasize the melancholy spirit afflicting all these characters. (To borrow a favorite Walkenism, the Bergmanish proceedings need more cowbell.) Yet the four leads more often than not transcend the material’s calculated moroseness; Ivanir is especially good as a man whose perfectionist facade masks a soul in perpetual turmoil. And Walken—having a banner year between this and Seven Psychopaths—makes the most of a humble climactic monologue that yokes all the maudlin elements into profound harmony.
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