Knight at the Movies Archives
Penelope Cruz returns in two new romantic roles, Steve Coogan breaks through in a zany comedy
Two years after her stunning performance in Volver Penelope Cruz is back with two movies, the romance drama Elegy and Vicky
Cristina Barcelona, a relationship comedy that finds Woody Allen back on firm footing. Cruz shows remarkable range and
fearlessness in both performances, no surprise to her longtime advocates. After a summer long on comic book movies both films
are also a welcome change of pace.
Cruz doesn’t enter until the midway point in Vicky Cristina Barcelona but when she does it’s as if she’d changed the current
from AC to DC, so electrifying is her entrance into what has up to that point been a delightful though somewhat predictable Woody
Allen farce. The plot centers on the uptight brunette Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and her luscious blonde best friend Cristina (Scarlet
Johansson) who are vacationing in Barcelona. Both fall for the devilishly handsome artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) though it’s
Cristina who ends up moving in with him. Juan, however, is still heavily influenced by his ex-wife, the fiery Maria Elena (Cruz) who
moves in with the couple after making a suicide attempt. After a brief period of fireworks, things heat up between the three and a
happy ménage a trois is set in motion.
At one point, Cristina even reveals to Vicky that she and Maria Elena have made love (the two are shown kissing in Cristina’s dark
room). But contentment isn’t the same as love (melancholy is a prominent emotion as in all Allen comedies) and there are several
more couplings (and uncouplings) before Allen’s zesty little movie, enlivened by its beautiful Barcelona locations and the
performances of Cruz and Bardem (who brings heart to the stereotypical Latin lover character), comes to an end. Allen doesn’t
actually appear in the picture though his anxiety prone stock character is recognizable in the characters played by Johansson (who is
more at home in this role than in previous Allen outings) and especially Hall who does most of the kvetching.
Cruz has a much larger role in Elegy, a movie based on the Philip Roth novel that tracks the course of a May-December romance.
David (Ben Kingsley), a respected college professor, author and self-acknowledged sybarite falls in love at a late age with Consuela
(played by Cruz), a student 30 years his junior who walks into his class and immediately bewitches him. At first he simply wants to
seduce her (like all the others) but then, incomprehensively, the hunter gets captured by the game. The love bug soon turns to
jealousy, however though Consuela doesn’t make demands or seem to want much of anything from David other than physical
intimacy. On that score she’s similar to Carolyn (played by the sensational Patricia Clarkson), the woman that David has been
sleeping with for close to 20 years. But David becomes convinced that the age difference between him and Consuela will sooner or
later become a problem and in spite of himself, he steers the love affair into rocky shoals.
This is awfully familiar stuff (it’s easy to imagine this being enacted by a gay troll and young trick for example) so you either go with
the scenario (including the maudlin last quarter) all the way or not at all. What helps the film stand out is the exceedingly polite,
less than melodramatic approach of director Isabel Coixet (the initial seduction is scored to Erik Satie) and the emotional, complex
leading performances of Kingsley and Cruz and the supporting ones from Clarkson and Hopper (Deborah Harry has a nice cameo as
well). “You’re a work of art, a real work of art” David says to Consuela with awe and boy, is he right. She’s sensational. Cruz sports
a Bettie Page hairdo and the best breasts since Sharon Tate in Valley of the Dolls and the love scenes between she and Kingsley
have real heat and romance.
Romance junkies of every stripe are sure to get their fix with screenings of both Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Elegy while Penelope Cruz
fanatics might just have to race home and take a cold shower.
Steve Coogan, the British comedian best known for his obnoxious talk show character Alan Partridge, stars as Dana Marschz, a not
so loveable loser in Hamlet 2, a black comedy strongly reminiscent of Waiting for Guffman and Drop Dead Gorgeous. Dana’s a failed
actor with a large ego who has ended up teaching drama at a high school in Tucson. Even there he’s only got two disciples,
Ephiphany (Phoebe Strole) a racist airhead Christian and Rand (Skyler Astin), a closeted gay drama queen (Rand) who has a crush
on him. Everyone else in his class, which is filled with Mexican Americans, hates him and openly reviles him. Saddled with a bitchy
wife (Catherine Keener who is as cynical and nasty as she was in Being John Malkovich) and the loss of his funding, Dana determines
to put on one last show that will put him on the map.
Dana hits on the idea of staging a sequel to Hamlet and though his students don’t know Shakespeare from Shakey’s Pizza, they
spark to the idea of staging the hideous play which is riddled with pop culture references and special effects. Getting wind of this,
the administration tries to shut the play down but the demented show – which we see in bits and pieces in a montage as a gay
chorus sings Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” – goes on. The over the top show, obviously designed to shock, even
includes a musical number “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” with Coogan dressed as Christ in jeans shaking his ass.
Coogan relishes his unlovable/loveable character and the chance to redeem him and he gets good comedic support from the young
actors playing his students, Keener, Elizabeth Shue (playing herself), and Amy Poehler as a tough as nails ACLU lawyer. Hamlet 2 is
silly, inconsequential fun with enough laughs to make it worth a trip to the megaplex.
Penelope and the Bard:
Elegy-Vicki Cristina Barcelona-Hamlet 2
Expanded Edition of 8-20-08 Knight at the Movies Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.