An adaptation of a Philip Roth novel is never going to be a laughfest. Nor is it going to be chock full of particularly loveable characters. But Nicholas Meyer’s (Medici) adaptation, delivered through Isabel Coixet’s (The Bookshop) capable hands, stays palatable and beautiful. Despite any of the darker or distasteful aspects of the main characters, she brings out the humanity of these flawed people.
Ben Kingsley (A Birder’s Guide to Everything) and Penélope Cruz (Broken Embraces) make an odd couple and an odd center around which this story spirals. Kingsley, in particular, has a tough path. He starts as a rather vile, if charismatic, person. He has to win us over to make the story work. For me, he did, though I don’t know that I found the ending entirely satisfying or believable. Still, it reflects the meaning in the title well.
Supporting the couple are a few really great performances by Dennis Hopper and Patricia Clarkson (The Bookshop) as Kingsley’s associates. Peter Sarsgaard (The Magnificent Seven) as his son is less impressive, but plays into the narrative nicely as well. In addition to the main cast, there is a host of faces you’ll recognize in small roles, like Deborah Harry and even some without lines. But why ruin the surprises?
Elegy isn’t a typical romantic film, but it is a film about romance and love. The women are strong, though you may question their choices. And Kingsley’s journey is one many men have to make, though most do so earlier in their lives. His sense of subtle control and deep emotion sells the story, while Cruz’s strength, conviction, and commitment allow it to hold shape. But if it weren’t for Coixet’s vision and ability, this would have been an utter train wreck rather than a contemplative piece that attempts to bridge generations.