August 28, 2008


Beauty and the Sexy Beast

Grade: B

Director: Isabel Coixet

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Penélope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper, Deborah Harry, and Peter Sarsgaard

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Stoutly acting and lushly photographed, Elegy is also a bit of a tweener – too slick for the arthouse yet too highbrow for the Oxygen channel. It is deliberate yet never boring, comfortable yet imbued with a healthy dose of cynicism. As far as films about growing old go, it is not as witty and melancholy as Alexander Payne’s underrated About Schmidt; in the realm of May-December romances, it is not as provocative as Last Tango in Paris nor as nuanced as Lost in Translation. However, it is a dynamic character study highlighted by interesting performances from two actors who, like the persons they portray, occupy opposite ends of the personal and professional spectrum.

Ben Kingsley plays author, professor, and cultural critic David Kepesh, a divorcee estranged from his only son (Peter Sarsgaard) and cognizant of the fact that he is quickly approaching the twilight of his life. His only semi-meaningful relationships are with a poet friend (Dennis Hooper) and a friend-with-benefits (Patricia Clarkson).

Enter Consuela (Penélope Cruz), the latest in a long line of female undergrads Kepesh has plucked from the student body to satisfy his own. Kepesh (and, by extension, the audience) has an acute skepticism over Consuela’s motives for bedding him and the surely finite time their tryst will last. Indeed, the more outward indices point toward a genuine attraction on Consuela’s part, the more Kepesh recoils and retreats into his solitary existence, sometimes exercising cruel and insensitive means to do so.

Adapting Philip Roth’s novella, “The Dying Animal,” Spanish director Isabel Coixet conveys an often achingly earnest portrayal of regret, loss, and personal dysfunction. Both Kingsley (last seen conoodling yet another young actress, Mary-Kate Olsen, in The Wackness) and Hopper are pleasingly restrained. Cruz is especially terrific, but the problem is that her performance takes off only after Consuela reenters to Kepesh’s orbit once she is diagnosed with breast cancer, an emotionally cheap plot turn that undermines the carefully constructed character development preceding it. That Kepesh’s neurosis is so acute he would drive away a young, beautiful woman who unconditionally loves him is a narrative worth exploring. However, who but the most hard-hearted would not exude a keener appreciation of life when the woman you loved and lost returns asking for your help as she faces possible death? Kepesh’s supposed redemption not a sign of delayed maturation; it’s a matter of elemental humanity.

Neil Morris

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The actors in this film are amazing. Its’ a film I could watch again and again just because of the performances. Dennis Hopper is great. I wish the others would take a leaf out of Hopper's book and get their voices recorded Navtones so I could have them on my GPS. I just got Hopper's voice and other cool celebrities as the voice on my GPS at It's awesome and I recommend it, just like this film.