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DE-LOVELY(director: Irwin Winkler; screenwriter: Jay Cocks; cinematographer: Tony Pierce-Roberts; editor: Julie Monroe; music: Cole Porter; cast: Kevin Kline (Cole Porter), Ashley Judd (Linda Porter), Jonathan Pryce (Gabe), Allan Corduner (Monty Wolley), Kevin McNally (Gerald Murphy), Sandra Nelson (Sara Murphy), Peter Polycarpou (Louis B. Mayer), Keith Allen (Irving Berlin), Richard Dillane (Bill Wrather), Kevin McKidd (Bobby Reed), John Barrowman (Jack); musical performances by Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Mick Hucknall, Diana Krall, Vivian Green, Mario Frangoulis, Natalie Cole; Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Irwin Winkler/Rob Cowan/Charles Winkler; MGM; 2004-United States/United Kingdom)
“Routine biopic of legendary American composer Cole Porter.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Irwin Winkler directs and Jay Cocks pens the screenplay to this routine biopic of legendary American composer Cole Porter, giving it a gay look–something other films about him refused to do for various reasons. The bittersweet musical drama evokes a nostalgia for the time and place of Mr. Porter’s sophisticated songs, but the drama part unfortunately offers no fireworks. De-Lovely is a dull, morose, and overlong melodrama of the composer’s life, which never makes Cole’s story come to life. Though fans of Mr. Porter’s music can take comfort that they will get an earful of his songs, which might be enough to satisfy the most faithful followers. I must say that even the celebrated songs as performed leave much to be desired, with only Sheryl Crow’s “Begin the Beguine” catching my interest.

The film opens as a dying elderly Cole Porter plays the piano in his empty New York apartment. A theater angel undoubtedly inspired by the biblical angel Gabriel, but here named Gabe (Jonathan Pryce), suddenly appears and calls Cole uncle. The two are next seen sitting in an empty theater where Gabe is directing a stage version of Cole’s life story. All the important personalities from his past appear in this performance to re-enact his life while Cole and the angel watch with keen interest, interrupting the stage performance at times to get Cole’s analysis of the event. It is through this corny framing device that we will view the film.

The re-enactment begins at the time Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) met his wife Linda Lee Thomas (Ashley Judd) at a Paris house party, in 1918–they married a year later. She’s an attractive wealthy American socialite, who is coming off a bitter divorce to an abusive hubby and takes comfort that her new hubby is Yale educated, gentle, intellectually gifted, and sophisticated. She readily accepts that he’s more interested in men than women, as they define love according to their own needs. They have a complicated relationship, which seems like a marriage-of-convenience, eased by the feelings of platonic love they have for each other.

The married couple settle down in a palatial house by the water in Venice, and Linda jump starts hubby’s career by getting the world’s best composer Irving Berlin to visit. Berlin is impressed by Cole’s songs and arranges for a Broadway stage show of his musical in 1928. Cole is an instant success, and remains in New York to become a prolific and famous composer.

On Linda’s suggestion, to give Cole a change of scenery and get him excited again about composing, they move to Hollywood. Cole hires out to work for MGM’s philistine boss Louis B. Mayer, and after settling into Hollywood he becomes very active with a variety of gay lovers. Linda has a change of heart and moves alone to Paris, upset that Cole is no longer discreet in his gay romances. The despondent Cole is at a loss since his muse departed. What follows is a horse riding accident where both of Cole’s legs are crushed, which leaves him crippled by 1937. Linda comes back to nurse him and the couple buy a mansion in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where their strong feelings for each other remains for the rest of their life. Though Cole’s doctor advises amputating one of his legs, Linda tells the doctor no because she knows that will ruin his will to live. Instead Cole goes through at least 26 operations and his musical output becomes severely hampered. Before Linda’s death in 1954 from emphysema, Cole’s Kiss Me Kate opened on Broadway in 1948 to rave reviews and signaled a return to his former greatness. But in 1958, after Cole has an amputation, the depressed man never writes another noteworthy piece of music again.

De-Lovely is filled with Porter’s classic Tin Pan Alley songs, over 24 of them, which include the following: “It’s De-Lovely,” “Let’s Misbehave,” “You’re The Top,” “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love,” “Night and Day,” “Anything Goes,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Be a Clown,” “I Love You,” and “Ev’ry Time You Say Goodbye.” It is performed by an array of pop singers as dissimilar as Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, and Natalie Cole.

The movie is not a complete dud, but is so lifeless that it fails to ever become De-Lovely. It’s not helped by the conventional script, lackluster directing and unmoving performances. Kline is all slicked up as a sophisticated self-absorbed dude, giving off what goes for patrician charm, but his act seems weary. Judd keeps a frozen smile on her kisser throughout and is glamorously costumed in ritzy gowns of the period, but all that comes out of her performance is a seemingly plastic way to act classy. For a film about a tribute to songs that are supposed to be timeless and full of fun, I detected not a sign of either in this very ordinary presentation.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”