De-Lovely Movie Review

In a darkened room an elderly man sits at a piano. He's barely outlined by light from a window, his face obscured in shadow. Then, a light fades up, spotlighting him, followed by light everywhere. Thus starts De-Lovely and its style of self-aware artificiality. It purports to be the life of composer Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) but there's little more here than a grand retrospective of his ingenious touch with a pop song and an attempt at scandalizing his personal, bisexual life.

Like a symphony that's incomplete because all the notes aren't available, what I didn't get out of this is a three-dimensional portrait of the subject. The show, structured as a dead or dying man's vision of his life played out like a movie and stage production, is loaded with talent and a detailed recreation of his period. The portrayal of the swank, rich life is as festive to behold as it is off-putting. The world in which Porter whirls and commands with assured, inevitable success is an alien one. Rather than feel a part of it, we are there to revel in the entertainment.

As for Kline's performance, I don't know what I was more bothered by, his smirk or his strut. He wore the stylish costumes well, though.

Ashley Judd provides the glamour necessary to be convincing as Linda, the female love of Porter's life, and a wife who was ready to support and enable his physical compulsions to men to an extent difficult to comprehend. But the level of devotion that sustained her heroic toleration (if it was that) wears down by years of the marriage's philandering reality, only the surface of which is allowed to enter the scenario. She is as much window dressing for the picture as she might have been for the real man's social standing. A psychological study of this deprived woman's basis for such sacrifice would offer more dramatic bite than this pretty, somewhat suspect, picture.

Jonathan Pryce is Gabe, the entrepreneur who, in Porter's aged mind, is putting on the show of his life. He speaks with a sense of breathless import as he lays out the acts of the production, even those that Porter would rather not dwell on.

The appearances of hip modern divas stepping away from their signature singing styles to take on the Porter magic was, for me, a highlight. Alanis Morissette is off the charts on "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love" and Sheryl Crow is the cat's meow on "Begin the Beguine," both trying their best but showing the stretch marks of unfamiliar delivery. Some would say awkward, but I thought the effort worthy of some appreciation. Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, and Natalie Cole lend their more-in-touch luster, and I wound up wishing the young, musical-oriented Linda Ronstadt was around. Costuming and set design are undeniable hits.

It must have seemed a great privilege for director Irwin Winkler (who last worked with Kevin Kline on Life as a House), and screenwriter Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York) to bring the work of this legend to the screen. Their aim seems to be a grand retrospective of his ingenious touch with a pop song and an attempt to humanize his homosexual life while still scandalizing it. But success for a film biography depends on more than a handsome production with a nostalgic playlist. The need for an emotional connection to the main character won't be satisfied by gold plating a man whose essential qualities, besides a talent that has enriched our musical heritage, is that he's ultra sophisticated, cool to an adoring wife, and absorbed in his gay exploits.

Having said all that, if you're seriously into musicals, you won't want to miss it.

Two commentary tracks, a making-of featurette, two "Anatomy of a Scene" featurettes, and deleted scenes round out a rich DVD.

Aka De-lovely.

Let's hear it for the boy.

Comments

Norma Flint's picture

Norma Flint

I thoroughly enjoyed de-lovely. I love Cole Porter's music and Kevin Kline was good in the role of Cole. He did his own piano playing too. KEVIN I cannot find any faults - you can act any part.

8 years 6 months ago
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hatorl's picture

hatorl

I love this movie, I love the songs and I love John Barrowman singing Night and Day

6 years 3 months ago
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De-Lovely Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2004

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