Directed by Irwin Winkler. Starring Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Sandra Nelson, Allan Corduner, Kevin McKidd. (2004, PG-13, 125 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 16, 2004
Irwin Winkler’s kid-gloves adaptation of the lives of Cole Porter and his wife, Linda, begins with Porter (Kline) at the piano, dying or possibly already dead, interrupted by a ghost/Broadway producer (Pryce), whose purpose is to journey Porter back through his life in musical montage. As the first song-and-dance number begins, Porter asks dubiously, "This isn’t going to be one of those avant-garde things, is it?" If only it were – some avant-garde mumbo jumbo might have jolted this stately but leaden affair into life. It’s all very elegant, of course, as befitting the life of the legendary songwriter of "Night and Day" and the title’s mirthful "De-Lovely" – but that elegance also amounts to a frustrating distancing from the material. I>De-Lovely does mark an improvement upon the previous Porter biopic, Night and Day (starring Cary Grant), by addressing the matter of Porter’s homosexuality. (Oddly, De-Lovely fails to mention Linda’s own reported lesbian affairs, save her one coy concession to her husband that "you prefer men more than I do.") In terms of the film’s focus, however, Porter’s numerous, sometimes long-term gay love affairs take a back seat to his marriage with Linda (played by Judd). Theirs was a complicated and fascinating sort of "gentleman’s agreement" that was rooted in a profound, if sexless, intimacy – complicated and fascinating on paper, at least. As rendered on film, as played by Kline and Judd, the relationship is somewhat more wan. The dogged enthusiasm of Kline’s performance and the utterly composed, utterly unmoving work of Judd result in something akin to "and never the twain shall meet": The two may frequently inhabit the same small frame, but they never quite believably inhabit the relationship. Part of the problem is that this is, in fact, a musical, and celebrated screenwriter Jay Cocks’ scripted dialogue provides but brief stopgaps in between elaborate musical numbers. The first two-thirds of this overlong film are crammed wall to wall with song-and-dance routines, many of which are performed appealingly enough by contemporary pop singers like Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, and Robbie Williams. The pace of the numbers slows near the climax, when Porter’s affairs begin to encroach upon his marriage and both he and Linda suffer debilitating medical conditions. As their marriage and their health mutually begin to fail, the film strains for dramatic punch, but so much time has been spent belting out show tunes – and so little time spent really digging into these characters – that it’s difficult to feel anything but a detached sympathy for the Porters’ plight. That said, the music is fantastic (credit, of course, going entirely to Porter), and some of the numbers are ingeniously performed – most especially "Let’s Do It," as performed by Alanis Morissette. Morissette’s distinctive warble is perhaps mismatched to the song, but Winkler stages an electrifying sequence that, in the course of the song, plots the progress of a stage production from casting to rehearsals to opening night. Moments such as these, when the music informs the film informs the music, can be thrilling, but they’re few and far between in Winkler’s affectionate but uninsightful biopic.