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    Even film biographies do it

    Let's not fall in love with "De-Lovely," a Cole Porter biography that has style and sexual peccadillos but could still be jazzed up a little.


    As evidenced by his rendition of "You're the Top" over the end credits, Cole Porter was no singer. But he was an extraordinary songwriter, one who penned such standards as "Let's Misbehave," "Anything Goes," "Be a Clown," "I Get a Kick Out of You," and "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)." He's also one who's just now getting his cinematic due (slipshod attempts at biography such as the 1946 film "Night and Day" starring Cary Grant and Alexis Smith notwithstanding), care of Irwin Winkler's modest "De-Lovely."

    Directed by: Irwin Winkler.
    Written by: Jay Cocks.
    Cast: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Sandra Nelson, Allan Corduner, Peter Polycarpou, Keith Allen, Robbie Williams, Lemar Obika, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, John Barrowman, Caroline O'Connor, Sheryl Crow, Mick Hucknall, Diana Krall, Vivian Green, Lara Fabian, Mario Frangoulis, Natalie Cole.
    Cinematography: Tony Pierce-Roberts.
    Edited by: Julie Monroe.
    Music by: Cole Porter.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    What's most evident about Porter's glamorous life, at least according to director Winkler and scribe Jay Cocks ("Gangs of New York"), is that the glamour was purely superficial, belying an underlying struggle for love and acceptance. Sure, the man had pots of money, but the center of this tale is the relationship between Porter, played with equal parts panache and introspection by Kevin Kline, and Linda Lee, his wife (Ashley Judd), in what amounted to a 38-year marriage of convenience.

    Whether Porter was gay, bi-sexual, or just plain greedy isn't altogether obvious and probably doesn't much matter. What does matter is that the men he loved, mostly after successful openings of his musical revues, were mostly tolerated by his wife, just so long as he was discreet and she was guaranteed "what's left of him." Porter could not, apparently, acquire all the love he needed from men alone and loved Linda for her own sake, as a trusted friend, confidante, even a muse... although, deep down, she clearly didn't like to share.

    Setting this literal stage, Winkler structures his film as the classic aged artist flashing back upon this life with a mixture of amusement and melancholia. A heavily made-up Kline (bearing more than a passing resemblance to Ray Milland, it should be noted) interacts with an exuberant Jonathan Pryce, who angelically orchestrates an imaginary life history before the composer's aging eyes, with actors — and singers — pouring forth upon the virtual stage and screen.

    Since Porter himself was not much of a vocalist — Kline warbles appropriately throughout but reserves the right to carry any kind of a real tune — it's left to the likes of pop icons Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, and Natalie Cole (among others) to provide big band productions and smaller, intimate workings of classic Cole Porter tunes. It's a revisionist tactic that worked a lot better in "Moulin Rouge," where the songs were more fully integrated into the drama, but it's one that provides, if nothing else, exposure to the music that has become part of the musical vernacular.

    But while the film's intentions are honorable, there's not much to get excited about here. Porter's life is often seen as dull as a guy hunkering over a piano scribbling notes, and it's hard to watch Judd's Linda Lee Porter take a back seat to his overt and obviously hurtful affairs, even if she was a willing collaborator from the outset.

    All told, "De-Lovely" is missing the passion and brio it needs to rise above its standard docu-drama/bio-pic construct and function on a level that best befits its iconic subject — clever, witty, and seemingly effortless in its creation.

    Kline is de-lightful and Judd is de-licious but the emotional music of "De-Lovely" is just too de-pressing for words.

    JULY 26, 2004

    Reader comments on De-Lovely:

  • De-Lovely   from mic, Aug 4, 2004
  • De-Lovely   from Wally, Aug 21, 2004
  • Loved De-Lovely   from cmd, Sep 3, 2004
  • [no subject]   from , Jan 7, 2005
  • de-flop   from susan, Jan 29, 2005
  • Re: de-flop   from Liz Allison, Jul 6, 2005
  • delovely   from momoffour, Feb 4, 2005
  • De-Lovely   from michele trahearne, Feb 11, 2005
  • You took the lyrics right out of my mind.   from vaunt, Feb 27, 2005
  • De-Lovely was De-lightfull   from Liz Allison, Jul 6, 2005
  • De-Lovely   from GK, Dec 4, 2005
  • someone i know   from Ariane, Jan 25, 2006
  • Delovely   from ida, Nov 16, 2006

  • Post a comment on "De-Lovely"