For Philip Roth, The Dying Animal may have been business as usual, and Isabel Coixet tosses off her adaptation of the author’s novella with an elegant, bemused fascination, dropping us into the familiar world of Roth’s Manhattan literati but insisting on a tone far less clammier and predictable than The Human Stain’s. The Spanish director gives an almost Wongian expression to the way people seduce one another, pondering the manner in which fingertips dance across the surface of things and Cuban-born Consuela (Penélope Cruz) leans against a wall, her ass teasing the hungry eyes of her ex-professor, David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley). Kingsley’s interpretation of a stock type is refreshing (there’s even nuance to the way he plops his keys into a key dish before checking his answering machine), making credible the way David quotes Bette Davis with the same conviction as he might, say, Camus. A libertine and creature of ritual, David is as unapologetic about having abandoned his son, Kenny (Peter Sarsgaard), when he was young as he is about women and sex, which he has quite a bit of with his ever-traveling wife Carolyn (a fantastic Patricia Clarkson). His love affair with Consuela, though, throws a wrench in his complacency and Elegy begins to die a slow death when it strains to parlay “meaning”—mostly through a series of back-and-forths between David and his Pulitzer Prize-winning friend, George (Dennis Hopper), during which the men talk about loving, sexing and obsessing at their age. Their running commentary is slightly more strained than David’s ideas about the relationship between art and the spectator, roused by Consuelo and her appearance to a woman in a certain painting, but the lightning-rod performances cast as fluid a spell as Coixet’s style. Even when her angles and cutting begin to feel like too much dithering, Coixet never loses her sense of humor, succinctly acknowledging during in a great scene where b.s. literally kills a character that artists should stay as true to their art as men like David and George should to the sexual agency society tells them they shouldn’t flex.
- Isabel Coixet
- Nicholas Meyer
- Ben Kingsley, Penélope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Harry
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