Somehow, “Elegy” isn’t moving. How is this possible? There are fantastic, raw performances, mainly by the supporting cast, quiet piano music underscoring many scenes and a supposedly heart tugging climax that comes out of left field. It clearly intends to be far more emotional than it is onscreen. But something’s still missing.
David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley, “Sexy Beast”) is a suave older professor who uses his charm to seduce the most beautiful of his female students, but only at the end of the semester, after all grades have been given. Sneaky.
His prey of choice at the start of the film is Consuela (Penelope Cruz, “Volver”), a beautiful Cuban student transfixed by every word that comes out of her teacher’s mouth. David’s best friend, George (Dennis Hopper, “Swing Vote”), warns him about getting too involved with Consuela, telling him she’s just a beautiful shell he’ll never crack.
Yes, Cruz’s character is beautiful (as she always is) and seems almost untouchable, but what more to her is there? At one point, she tells David she’s going dancing with her brother and David is incredulous, as he never knew she had a brother. The audience feels the same way, shocked there are actual dimensions to seemingly hollow characters.
Maybe that’s done on purpose. The audience is continually reminded that “beautiful women are invisible.” Consuela certainly proves that point. She’s a beautiful face and, like David, we’re not supposed to care much about what she says or feels. At one point the words coming out of her mouth are actually muted. She’s clearly only meant to be an object, perhaps to remind David of his own mortality or inability to commit.
While the scenes between Cruz and Kingsley feel endlessly long, scenes between Kingsley and his other fine co-stars are far too short. Among them, the under-appreciated talents of both Patricia Clarkson (“Lars and the Real Girl”) and Peter Sarsgaard (“Garden State”) go unnoticed. This film would have been much more interesting had it focused more on the far superior sub-plots involving Clarkson as David’s aging mistress and Sarsgaard as Kingsley’s bitter son.
Kingsley is effectively lecherous and charming in this film, all at once. One can see how he could seduce his students, even while being a total jerk at the same time. Though it’s nice to see him return to form — we all know the man can act — he doesn’t seem bent on proving it, if his recent roles (“Love Guru,” “BloodRayne,” “Thunderbirds”) are any indication.
As for the preposterous ending, well, the less said, the better. If only the chemistry between the two leads were only more convincing, we might care more.
Many people will consider this a “thinking person’s film,” but in the end we aren’t left with much to think about at all. A smarmy, aging professor loves beautiful women but can’t seem to commit to them. Not exactly groundbreaking work here.