CAR­NAL KINGS­LEY

TER­RIFIC PER­FOR­MANCES MAKE GLOOMY ‘EL­EGY’ WORTH­WHILE

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss

BEN KINGS­LEY is an ag­ing, cel­e­brated col­lege pro­fes­sor still in thrall to the “car­nal as­pects of the hu­man com­edy” in “El­egy,” a dour film that of­fers a male-flat­ter­ing ro­man­tic/tragic fan­tasy for ma­ture in­tel­lec­tu­als un­able to iden­tify with the young man’s fan­tasies of Judd Apa­tow movies.

Adapted from the novel “The Dy­ing An­i­mal,” by Philip Roth, the movie was di­rected by a woman, Spain’s Is­abel Coixet. Even so, the fe­male char­ac­ters — as smart and in­de­pen­dent as they are — seem to ex­ist

pri­mar­ily to help the pro­fes­sor evolve from selfish ci­ti­zen of “Amer­ica the li­cen­tious” to hum­bled pen­i­tent on the al­tar of Eros. Th­ese women suf­fer for the ben­e­fit of the man in their life. Breast can­cer’s a drag, but imag­ine be­ing a man who doesn’t un­der­stand love.

The per­for­mances are ter­rific, and they make the film worth­while. Pené­lope Cruz is Cleopa­tra-banged Con­suela Castillo, a stu­dent who — like so many be­fore her — be­comes the lover of charis­matic Prof. David Kepesh (Kings­ley), a mi­nor celebrity be­cause of his fre­quent ap­pear­ances on tele­vi­sion. (You can tell “El­egy” is aimed at a rel­a­tively cul­tured au­di­ence be­cause the TV chat-show host who makes a cameo here is Char­lie Rose, not Larry King.)

But Con­suela — a Goya fan who poses like “The Naked Maja” for David’s cam­era — doesn’t take love­mak­ing ca­su­ally. She wants a real re­la­tion­ship with the re­luc­tant David, who is em­bar­rassed by his ad­vanced age and afraid to risk him­self for “love.” David keeps Con­suela’s pres­ence in his life a se­cret from his other lover, a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­woman (Pa­tri­cia Clark­son), but he talks about her to his best friend, a mar­ried Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (Den­nis Hop­per). The poet tells him: “You gotta stop wor­ry­ing about grow­ing old and worry about grow­ing up.” A viewer watch­ing both of th­ese phi­lan­der­ers in action might ask: Why?

“El­egy” was scripted by Ni­cholas Meyer, a long­time vet­eran of smart pop en­ter­tain­ment. (He wrote the Sher­lock Holmes novel “The Seven-Per-Cent So­lu­tion” and di­rected “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”) Lately, Meyer has turned to the­o­ret­i­cally more se­ri­ous fare; “El­egy” is his sec­ond Roth adap­ta­tion, af­ter “The Hu­man Stain” (2003), in which ag­ing clas­sics pro­fes­sor An­thony Hop­kins has an af­fair with a younger jan­i­tor played by — get this — Nicole Kid­man.

Step by step and mo­ment by mo­ment, Meyer’s screen­play is con­vinc­ing; the char­ac­ters are not far-fetched, nor are the dra­matic de­vel­op­ments un­likely. (Peter Sars­gaard plays the seem­ingly strait-laced son who re­sents his randy fa­ther.) But as the movie pro­gresses through its sta­tions of the ex­is­ten­tial­ist’s cross, with the mu­sic of Beethoven, Satie and Chet Baker pro­vid­ing me­lan­choly ac­com­pa­ni­ment to the pro­fes­sor’s in­creas­ing aware­ness of his lone­li­ness, it be­gins to try one’s pa­tience. Ap­par­ently, Coixet wants us to be­lieve the pro­fes­sor has come to re­gret the bad choices he made in his life; in­stead, we ex­pect him to make like Si­na­tra and bust out singing: “I did it my way.”

“El­egy” is play­ing ex­clu­sively at Malco’s Ridge­way Four.

— John Bei­fuss, 529-2394

Joe Lederer/Sa­muel Gold­wyn Films

Pro­fes­sor Ben Kings­ley is in­ter­ested in more than the in­tel­lec­tual de­vel­op­ment of stu­dent Pené­lope Cruz in “El­egy.”

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