Dustin Hoffman is sitting alone in the sunny corner of a restaurant in Brentwood, looking as though he’s deep in prayer. Soon after his lunch companion arrives, the object of his worship rings with the lilting notes “Are You Havin’ Any Fun?,” a jazz standard that figures prominently in his new movie, “Quartet.”
Hoffman apologizes, then takes the call. It turns out that “Quartet,” which marks the actor’s directorial debut, has been the subject of a ratings kerfuffle at the Motion Picture Association of America. The film takes a playful, poignant look at aging through the stories of four characters living in a home for retired musicians in England. “Quartet,” which stars Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly and Tom Courtenay, possesses sweetness, pluck and charm — but also a few cheerfully delivered four-letter words.
“For a PG release, they give you two,” Hoffman explains in his hoarse, slightly melancholy drawl, the same cadence that makes everyone think he’s from New York (he’s a California native). He is dressed comfortably in gray corduroys and a blue sports shirt, his hair a thick salt-and-pepper mane, his face often seeming to split in two by a ready V-shaped grin. “And if there’s more than that, they give you an R. And there are three that I wanted.” The call on his iPhone was to inform him that his solution — to have a sound effect strategically inserted to muffle an offending expletive — has been accepted by the arbiters of all that is decent and good in American cinema. “The compromise worked.”