ELEGY (director: Isabel Coixet; screenwriters: Nicholas Meyer/based on the novel “The Dying Animal” by Philip Roth; cinematographer: Jean-Claude Larrieu; editor: Amy Duddleston; cast: Penélope Cruz (Consuela Castillo), Ben Kingsley (David Kepesh), Dennis Hopper (George O’Hearn), Patricia Clarkson (Carolyn), Peter Sarsgaard (Dr. Kenny Kepesh), Deborah Harry (Amy O’Hearn); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Tom Rosenberg/Gary Lucchesi/Andre Lamal; Samuel Goldwyn Films; 2008)
“I could never warm up to any of the characters.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet (“The Secret Life of Words”/”My Life Without Me”) directs a melancholy high-minded adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2001 short story The Dying Animal that captures the spirit of Roth but not his magical prose. It becomes tedious, too sedate and too slow moving at times despite a few moments of being highly charged. Also the sex scenes, supposedly the heart of the movie, are never hot because star Ben Kingsley is miscast and seems too high-minded to get down in the gutter (something the role calls for). Nicholas Meyer turns in the intelligent but uninspiring screenplay.
It follows the lustful life of a cultured 62-year-old Columbia University celebrity literature professor, David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), and his romantic relationship with a beautiful Cuban-American student named Consuela (Penélope Cruz). She becomes the object of the much older divorced prof’s desire, and he finds he can’t live without possessing her beauty like he thinks he does in collecting art.
In the 1960s David left his wife and young son to pursue the life of sexual freedom. Because of that he has become estranged from his priggish now thirtysomething doctor son Kenny (Ben Kingsley). The libertine makes it an art to pickup coeds after they finish his class by throwing a cocktail party and dazzling them with his high-brow culture and celebrity status as an author and as a talk show host on public radio. For the last twenty years he has been having a sex only affair with a former student now successful businesswoman Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson), who has since been twice divorced. Carolyn is frank about the relationship and refuses to be lied to or cheated on, an honesty that David is not capable of reciprocating.
The film picks up steam with David bagging Consuela, who comes from a family of conservative well-to-do Cuban exiles. The thirty year gap in their ages doesn’t prevent his sexual conquest, and she surprises him by coming back for more sex unlike most of his other conquests. He confides, as he always does, with his same aged married suburban friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet George O’Hearn (Dennis Hopper), a philanderer who advises David to just go strictly sexual and don’t get involved with any entanglements. George has the best line in the pic, as he tells his pal: “Beautiful women are invisible; we’re so dazzled by the outside that we never make it inside.” But David can’t help himself and falls in love, but suffers from insecurities of aging and losing her to a younger man. This need to possess her makes him jealous, and the point of the story becomes how he always thought he was a free man by not being married but now grasps he’s a prisoner of his desires.
By the climax, it turns into a heartbreaking love story and shows the culture maven male chauvinist in a slightly better light. But my problem was that I could never warm up to any of the characters, and found too much to be just urban sophisticated chatter over nothing more than an older man fucking a beautiful younger woman.
REVIEWED ON 9/20/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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