The lives of others
ELEGY Directed by Isabel Coixet. Starring Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Harry
16 cert, Cineworld/Light House/ Movies@Dundrum, Dublin, 113 min THERE is something terribly adolescent about this problematic film’s conception of what being grown-up is all about.
Isabel Coixet’s Elegy, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal, concerns itself with a near-imaginary class of cinematic snoot that lives in uptown Manhattan, writes for the New Yorker and doesn’t know what a television is for. They seem to think themselves brighter than the Mekon, but, when placed under stress, they reach for such musical cliches as Arvo Pärt’s frantically overused Spiegel im Spiegel.
As if all that weren’t annoying enough, the film concerns itself with yet another aging, boozy academic chasing yet another inappropriately youthful student. Oh, please.
And yet. The superb central performance from Ben Kingsley – simultaneously smug and fragile – and decent supporting ones from a sprightly looking Dennis Hopper and a statuesque Patricia Clarkson just about see the film through.
Sir Ben plays a professor of literature who, despite the encroaching signs of age, has reached a kind of stability in his life. Nights are spent having sex with his conveniently undemanding lover (Clarkson); days are taken up gossiping with his oldest buddy (Hopper). When he meets and falls for a Cuban student, that happy equilibrium begins to crumble.
Penélope Cruz is already a decade too old for the female lead, but she exhibits enough bruised charm to get away it. The direction by Coixet, perpetrator of the dire My Life Without Me, never rushes the performers, and Nicholas Meyer, writer of the regrettable Roth adaptation The Human Stain, does a decent job of filleting out the author’s pithiest observations.
Besides which, who would want to miss a film in which Dennis Hopper gets to feed Ben Kingsley scrambled eggs?
Penelope Cruz as an unlikely grad student