large_elegyIf you had any doubts that Penelope Cruz deserved a best supporting Oscar for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” at the Academy Awards, take a look at “Elegy.”

As a demure, sheltered Cuban-born literature student, she’s 180 degrees from the fiery ex-wife she plays in Woody Allen’s film.

The movie, now available on DVD, is based on Philip Roth’s novella “The Dying Animal.” I am not a fan of Roth; never have been. So I figured I’d stay for part of the screening, then get out and let the venom pour.

But “Elegy” surprised me. It’s a thoughtful, unflinching look at a selfish man’s life. That would be David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), a veteran professor who teaches at the right kind of college, has won the right kind of awards, has just the right amount of fame (among the right people) and exercises a kind of droit de seigneur every year with one of his former students. With the hotline number for sexual harassment posted on a bulletin board down the hall from his classroom, Kepesh knows to keep it you-know-where until said student has graduated. Then, at his customary post-grad party, he seduces her with the sort of finesse usually granted to movie stars, rock musicians and CEOs.

This time it’s Consuela Castillo (Cruz), and while all works out as usual, when he drops her (as usual), he’s surprised to learn he’s in love with her. The aging Lothario has caught himself in his own trap.

Perhaps one reason “Elegy” is so richly textured and emotionally acute is that the screenplay is by Nicholas Meyer, who may go to his grave known as the guy who directed the best “Star Trek” movie (that would be “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan,” of course).

However, I think a lot of the credit must go to director Isabel Coixet. Roth’s male peacock strut is filtered through her female astuteness. He performs; she watches, which is the inverse of a typical Roth book in which the woman is the object and the man the observer.

There’s also excellent supporting work by Dennis Hopper as a like-minded academic and Patricia Clarkson as one of his earliest former students who still drops by for a fling after 20 years.

Editor’s note: Eleanor Ringel Cater is a founding contributor to likethedew.com. This article was distributed by the Georgia Online News Service.

###
Eleanor Ringel Cater

Eleanor Ringel Cater

Eleanor Ringel Cater, long-time movie critic for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, also has been a regular contributor to CNN, MSNBC, Entertainment Weekly, Headline News and WXIA, Atlanta's NBC affiliate, and a columnist for TV Guide.