Classical concerts, chronic illness, nagging insecurity, massive Upper West Side apartments, inappropriate romance… There are times when ‘A Late Quartet’ feels like a checklist for self-serious bourgeois Manhattan intellectuals – a Woody Allen movie without the jokes. Luckily, what it has instead of gags is a phenomenal central cast, who puncture the pomposity with sheer charm. Christopher Walken gives a twinkly and avuncular performance as Peter, the cellist whose diagnosis of Parkinson’s sparks a crisis for the other members of his chamber quartet. Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) wants to share first violin duties with the more talented Daniel (Mark Ivanir), while Jules (Catherine Keener) just wants to hold the group together.
Watching these players interact is a pleasure – the scenes between Walken and Keener, in particular, inject a tone of mournful sweetness lacking elsewhere. First-time writer-director Yaron Zilberman’s control is impressive, but his pretensions towards serious art can make the film a bit of a slog, especially when the plotting is so soapy and schematic. The result is a perfectly serviceable, well acted melodrama – but why so serious?