Elegy (Red Envelope Entertainment/Samuel Goldwyn Films, R)

film_elegy_sm.jpgFor its more interesting bits, Elegy suggests a less dangerous update of Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing.








I wonder where cinema for adults has gone. I’m not talking about X-rated movies, mind you, but a film like Elegy makes you wonder when it was that sophisticated relationship dramas went out of fashion. In Elegy, professor and talk radio host David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley, in an attempt to become the hardest working actor of 2008) becomes smitten with one of his students, Consuela (Penélope Cruz), who’s several years his junior. The usual pitfalls occur. He’s too detached for her. She can’t stand his insecurity. His mistress Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson) disapproves of him seeing other women. And you pretty much know the rest.

For Elegy, director Isabel Coixet steps away from her frequent producers, the Almodóvar brothers, and takes one of Pedro’s greatest muses, Cruz. Her greatest triumph in Elegy is the handling of her actors, particularly Cruz, who displays a radiance often unseen in her English-language films. Kingsley is certainly better here than he is in his Robin Williams-would-be-proud performance in The Wackness, and you’ll never hear me utter a bad word about Clarkson. Hell, Coixet even allows for good performances from the hammy-as-of-lately Dennis Hopper and the often-horrible Debbie Harry. Unfortunately for her, the performances weaken as the film does.

In her last two films, My Life Without Me and The Secret Life of Words, Coixet juggled an uneasy mix of hard drama and soapy melodrama, and Elegy is, unfortunately, no different. Things begin to go sour in the film’s last third during scenes where you can almost see her cueing the violins. Hopper’s more-than-acceptable performance as Kingsley’s best friend becomes squandered, and Cruz’s efforts only suggest that she is, rightly, too good for this film.

For its more interesting bits, Elegy suggests a less dangerous update of Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing as we begin to see that Kingsley, much like Art Garfunkel, cannot intellectualize himself out of his primitive, obsessive feelings toward Cruz, here the substitute for Theresa Russell. Elegy teases its audience with the threat of intellect and well-shaped emotions, but each of these moments ultimately becomes awash when the Kleenex are meant to be passed. Coixet similarly wasted the valiant efforts of Sarah Polley, who starred in the two previous films, and even Coixet’s own good work with this sentimental heavy-handedness. I’m not cynical enough to wish the characters in Coixet’s films ill will, but I’m also not one to take lightly the cheating of my emotional involvement. | Joe Bowman

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