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A Too-Tasteful 'Elegy,' Feeling Mildly Lamentable

Ben Kingsley i

Chronic womanizer David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) keeps a cool emotional distance between himself and the women he pursues ... Joe Lederer/Samuel Goldwyn Films hide caption

toggle caption Joe Lederer/Samuel Goldwyn Films
Ben Kingsley

Chronic womanizer David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) keeps a cool emotional distance between himself and the women he pursues ...

Joe Lederer/Samuel Goldwyn Films

Elegy

  • Director: Isabel Coixet
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 108 minutes

Rated R: The nudity is discreet — the language less so.

Watch Clips

'Here I Am'

'Have You Ever Imagined A Future With Me?'

'Diet Coke It Is'

Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz i

... until he finds himself consumed by the beauty of his student Consuela (Penelope Cruz). Joe Lederer/Samuel Goldwyn Films hide caption

toggle caption Joe Lederer/Samuel Goldwyn Films
Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz

... until he finds himself consumed by the beauty of his student Consuela (Penelope Cruz).

Joe Lederer/Samuel Goldwyn Films

An old man's lust turns to love, not altogether convincingly, in Elegy, a tastefully appointed relationship drama adapted from Philip Roth's novella The Dying Animal.

Directed by Isabel Coixet, whose credits include such female-centered tales as My Life Without Me, the film is the sort of thing some might term a "woman's picture." Yet its viewpoint is steadfastly masculine — and its resolution borders on male fantasy.

New York literature professor David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) and his poet best friend (Dennis Hopper) share a vigorous interest in bedding younger women.

The principal difference between the two is that the poet still lives with his wife, while David left his years before. (His bitter son, played with characteristic vehemence by Peter Sarsgaard, surfaces periodically to remind him of this abandonment.)

David does maintain a long-term relationship with a former student (Patricia Clarkson), but that's purely for sex.

When he meets Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz), though, David breaks his own teach 'em, love 'em and leave 'em policy.

A graduate student who worked for a few years before returning to college, Consuela is well over 21. But she's still an unlikely match for David, who's perhaps twice her age.

Consuela falls in love with David, even though he esteems only her beauty. He calls her naked body "a work of art," and is particularly devoted to her breasts.

David's candor about his attraction is underscored by his thoughts, which are delivered in voiceover — and are even more piggish.

Eventually, David's reluctance to perform such basic boyfriend duties as meeting Consuela's family leads her to end the affair. But that's not the end of the story, which shifts its attention to the realm of affliction and mortality.

Kingsley was more interesting as the less controlled rogue in The Wackness, but Hopper's performance is engaging — and Cruz has never been more assured in an English-language role. Coixet, who shot the film herself, matches beautiful images to a predictably up-market score that mingles Bach, Satie, Vivaldi and Chet Baker.

These elegant trappings ultimately serve to undermine the drama, though. The film's gentility, rather than contrasting with David's unpleasantness, merely cloaks it.

Elegy is tough on the young beauty, but goes all too easy on the old seducer.

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