Isabel Coixet adapts Philip Roth's "The Dying Animal" with smooth elegance in a meditation on mortality and uncommitment.
Starring Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, and Dennis Hopper, Elegy has Kingsley as its primary player, author and a rather arrogant New York university professor David Kepesh. Early on, Kepesh is promoting his latest work about hedonism on the Charlie Rose program.
Kepesh is divorced and disunited from his son Kenny (Peter Sarsgaard), a doctor. Patricia Clarkson (Married Life) is a businesswoman who acquiesces him on a regular basis, and best friend, perhaps past-his-prime bard George (Dennis Hopper) isn't really surprised how he carries on. Even if he gets close to fetching students who hold him in high regard, upon successfully finishing his class.
Nicholas Meyer's absorbing adaptation of Roth has David getting more than friendly with Cruz's Cuban-American Consuela. The aging professor begins to be really smitten to her, and acts a bit out of whack according to George as she becomes fond of him, too.
The narrative machinations also hinges on Kenny abruptly coming back into his dad's life for advice about his philandering while reminding him of the familial strife he created.
Coixet, the director of the lyrically poignant My Life Without Me, again handles all the nuance with sensitivity and precision. She convincingly works with Meyer who is able to handle Roth's learned, emotionally disparate passages in a way that translates better on celluloid than in The Human Stain.
Kingsley doesn't go for sympathy as the somewhat fulsome Kepesh, maybe even more flawed than his pot-fueled Dr. Squires character in The Wackness. But, he offers cool pleasures as the protagonist, especially opposite a wonderful Cruz, who captures some of the esteemed looks of an Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren in her magnetic gestures with him. Especially with a deeply affecting shift in the final reel.
In David's orbit, Clarkson, Sarsgaard, and Hopper offer solid support, with the latter very good in role against type, and having a strong concluding moment.
Just like its title, Elegy is a bit grievous, a dirge of a film that is richly intimate, but gets under your skin just like a production (shot in Vancouver) that uses classical tunes to much effect.