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The Biggest Surprise In A Man’s Life Is Old Age

December 23rd, 2010 · 5 Comments

This month’s theme was hatched after yet another person with better taste than me recommended that I add the 2005 romantic drama Shopgirl to my queue. Looking for nine more films with similar themes, “Polaroid”, “Sushi” and “Loan Payment” were all considered and rejected before I settled on “May December Romance”. So in the month of December, I’ll take a look at love separated by much more than just six months on the calendar.

Elegy (2008)
Directed by Isabel Coixet
Screenplay by Nicholas Meyer, based on the novel The Dying Animal by Philip Roth
Produced by Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Andre Lamal
112 minutes

If Elegy wasn’t a movie, it would probably be a rug, the rugs that men of a certain age wear on their heads. Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Roth had two of his novels adapted by the movies — Goodbye, Columbus (1969) and Portnoy’s Complaint (1974) — but it wasn’t until Nicholas Meyer adapted The Human Stain (2003) for Lakeshore Entertainment that the results were even somewhat well received. Lakeshore optioned the film rights to Roth’s 2001 novel The Dying Animal and founder Tom Rosenberg sent a copy to Penelope Cruz. The actress spent five years lobbying to get a film made. With Meyer tackling a script, the producers wooed Al Pacino for the role of professor David Kepesh. Cruz had more luck getting fellow Spaniard Isabel Coixet, director of My Life Without Me and The Secret Life of Words, behind the camera, with Ben Kingsley as Kepesh.

Under a title Nicholas Meyer coined, Elegy commenced shooting April 2007 in Vancouver. Though Lakeshore had a deal with MGM, the film was screened for the first time at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival without a distributor. Samuel Goldwyn Films agreed to release it in the U.S., with Netflix’s Red Envelope Entertainment promoting the DVD among its subscribers. Elegy is intimately crafted, with Isabel Coixet dialing down the melodrama and striking a rhythm that’s soulful and intimate. The dialogue is cut from equal fine quality, but the story of a student entering into an affair with her professor is older than dirt. If there was anywhere to go with this material, Elegy is unwilling or unable to. Ben Kingsley doesn’t exhibit the charm the role called for, though Penelope Cruz has never been more appealing in an English speaking role.

Appearing on The Charlie Rose Show to promote his book about hedonism in pre-colonial America, author David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) hints at regret he’s experienced for a marriage in the 1960s that did not live up to its promise. Kepesh looks back on how passion recently entered and exited his life by recalling a student named Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz) in his practical criticism class at Columbia. Attracted to her beauty and sophistication, Kepesh waits until grades have been passed out and he throws a cocktail party for his students to make his move. She gives her professor permission to stop calling her “Miss Castillo”. He replies, “There’s something about you that invites a kind of formality.” Consuela accepts his invitation to see a play. Kepesh’s best friend poet George O’Hearn (Dennis Hopper) ridicules this, advising Kepesh not to mix conversation up with sex.

Wrapping up a round of “pure fucking” with his lover of 20 years, Caroline (Patricia Clarkson), Kepesh receives a call from his son (Peter Sarsgaard), a doctor still coming to terms with his father’ walking out on his mother. After their date, Kepesh lures Consuela to his apartment by agreeing to play the piano for her. They spend the night together. Though Kepesh maintains to George that Consuela likely thinks of him as a new experience and nothing more, the couple is unable to move on. A relationship blossoms, but Kepesh realizes he’ll never possess Consuela and obsesses over her. She reads him the riot act and allays the professor’s fears of their 30-year age difference, but his insecurity erodes the love affair, prompting Kepesh to return to the familiarity of Caroline. Two years later, out of the blue, Consuela returns to Kepesh with a revelation.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 10,718 users: 60% for Elegy

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 66 for Elegy

What do you say?

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Based on novel · Interrogation · Master and pupil · Midlife crisis · No opening credits · Paranoia · Unconventional romance

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gillian // Dec 23, 2010 at 10:49 am

    I wasn’t thrilled by this movie, and not just because the thought of someone who looks like Penelope Cruz and someone who looks like Ben Kingsley is unsettling at best. Rather than romantic or uplifting or even cathartic I found it icky and overwrought.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Dec 23, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Gillian: I agree that Ben Kingsley is miscast here. I’m undecided on the debate about whether we’ve had enough stories about female students sleeping with their professors. One on the one hand, female students keep sleeping with their professors. What’s more unsettling to me is that even “the greatest novelist in America” appears to have difficulty crafting stories with any element of suspense. Thanks for commenting!

  • 3 haa // Aug 8, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    yes, the older partner in these kinda films cant actually look their age now can they

  • 4 Marie // Mar 25, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    I don’t agree. I felt Kingsley to my surprise was very beliveable as a love-sexy interest. I also liked the rythm of the film, with narration here and there thru out. It could have gone though, in the analysis of emotions…

  • 5 john // Dec 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    The comment that Gillian writes above confirms that this country is descended from the puritans. Philip Roth 1 Gillian 0. On the other hand the movie does fail to build suspense after the graduation party. It should have ended there.

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