"Quartet" is a thoughtful, entertaining and fun film that hits all the grace notes.

The film is directed by Dustin Hoffman, who will be 76 on Aug. 8, in his feature film directorial debut.

One question: Why did he wait so long?

Well, Hoffman started directing "Straight Time" in 1978, but Ulu Grobard took it over.

The setting for "Quartet" is Beecham House, a home for retired musicians in England, for which the success of the annual gala concert to celebrate composer Giuseppi Verdi's birthday may determine whether the castle-like manse will stay open or close.

Into the clubby atmosphere arrives Jean Horton (Maggie Smith, TV's "Dunton Abbey"), a famous opera star who has vowed to never sing again. And yet her performance in Verdi's "Quartet" at the gala concert could fetch a higher ticket price, providing needed revenue for Beecham House.

Complicating matters is that her ex-husband, Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), a tenor, is already living in Beecham House, as is her opera diva rival, Anne Langley, (opera star Gwyneth Jones).

The plot is tried and true: "let's put on a show to raise money for a cause." The proof is in the telling. In "Quartet," the telling plays very well.

The setting is elegant, the dialogue is Shakespearean in its rapier wit, and the cinematography is golden, symbolizing dawn's soft promise and sunset's rosy regret.

Without giving too much away, in the screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on his play, working out the characters' choice between, as Billy Joel sang, "the sadness and euphoria," is one of the chief delights of "Quartet."

The dialogue is amusing. Here's an example: "Saw you in 'Carmen.' I'll never forget it. But I'll try."

Bette Davis's familiar quote is invoked: "Old age is not for sissies."

Hoffman paces the traditionally-lensed and edited film nicely, giving each actor expansive moments and each plot point its proper emphasis.

Hoffman, the notorious wedding "unplanner" in "The Graduate," has some experience with relationships unraveling, the vicissitudes of love and regret and rebirth.

As it's said in "Quartet," one can either "grin and bear it" or "forgive and forget."

The film really comes alive with the entrance of Maggie Smith. She creates an imperious air, putting up a wall of disdain, masking an insecure vanity.

Michael Gambon as Cedric Livingston, the gala's director, floats through the scenes in grand style, attired in flowing caftans and eccentric headwear.

Tom Courtenay is very effective as the reserved Reginald Paget.

Billy Connolly as Wilf Bond, whose libido is still in overdrive, is described as "a very naughty boy." Connolly is delightful as an elderly impish rake.

Pauline Collins as Cissy Robson has some of the film's most poignant moments.

Beecham Home's doctor in residence, Lucy Cogan is nicely rendered by Sheridan Smith.

The soundtrack creates a whole other character, filled as it is with classical music, plus Gilbert and Sullivan's "Three Little Maids from School" and the Sammy Fain and Jack Yellin tune, "Are you havin' Any Fun?"

As it's said of the musicians at Beecham House: their playing and singing "keeps them young." And this: "Their love of life is infectious." So, is "Quartet."

Love can come along at any age, in any form, at any time. Don't miss your opportunity to sing and play this "Quartet," if the opportunity presents itself.

One can only hope that Dustin Hoffman directs another feature film and doesn't wait as long next time to do so.

"Quartet," MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for brief strong language and suggestive humor; Genre: Drama, Comedy; Run time: 1 hour, 38 minutes; Distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Many of those in the supporting cast in "Quartet" are well-known British classical musicians and opera singers. Then and now photos are shown at the top of the concluding credits.

Box Office, March 8: "Oz the Great and Powerful" lived up to its title in box-office gross, opening at No. 1, with $80.2 million, making it the year's biggest hit in advance of the summer movie season, and pushing another fantasy story, "Jack the Giant Slayer," to No. 2, with $10 million, $43.8 million, two weeks.

3. "Identity Thief," $6.3 million, $116.5 million, five weeks; 4. "Dead Man Down," $5.3 million, opening; 5. "Snitch," $5.1 million, $31.8 million, three weeks; 6. "21 and Over," $5 million, $16.8 million, two weeks; 7. "Safe Haven," $3.8 million, $62.8 million, four weeks; 8. "Silver Linings Playbook," $3.7 million, $120.7 million, 17 weeks; 9. "Escape from Planet Earth," $3.2 million, $47.8 million, four weeks; 10. "The Last Exorcism Part II," $3.1 million, $12 million, two weeks.

Unreel, March 15:

"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," PG-13: Steve Carell stars as Burt Wonderstone and Steve Buscemei is Anton Marvelton, two superstar magicians challenged by Jim Carrey as Steve Gray, a street magician. The comedy, directed by Don Scardino (TV's "30 Rock") in his big-screen debut, also stars James Gandolfini, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin and Jay Mohr.

"Upside Down," PG-13: Jim Sturgess and Kristen Dunst star in the sci-fi film about two persons who are in love but are a universe apart \m literally.

"Ginger & Rosa," PG-13: Two teen girls growing up in 1960s London. Elle Fanning and Alice Englert star in the drama written and directed by Sally Potter ("Orlando") that also stars Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spall, Annette Bening and Oliver Platt.

"From Up on Poppy Hill," PG: The animated drama from the Japanese anime Studio Ghibli ("Spirited Away') is about teens trying to save their clubhouse from demolition in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, tnonline. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes