De-Lovely (USA/UK; 125 min.)


directed by: Irwin Winkler
starring: Kevin Kline; Ashley Judd; Jonathan Pryce
De-Lovely
 
Bruce says: "Genius is fascinating. It attracts, it seduces and it frequently commands a price. That Cole Porter was a genius is indisputable. He fit the mold. People flocked to be near him; he was sophisticated, witty and entertaining. His father was reputedly the richest man in Indiana and he had a Yale degree. He seemed to have everything. But he also had a handicap – his homosexuality. DE-LOVELY handles the usually taboo topic without flinching. (Well, almost, we’ll get to that later.) While living a high life as a rich young man in World War I Paris, he met Linda Thomas a wealthy American divorcee who lost interest in sex due to her abusive marriage. They began spending great amounts of time together. Porter confessed that Linda was the first person with whom he could be totally honest – almost. While stumbling over his own words, Linda made it easy by suggesting he probably was attracted to men; in fact 'you probably like men more than I do,' is the way she phrased it. To gain the acceptability he craved and to attain the social status that in those days was denied a divorced woman, marriage was a convenient solution for both of them.

"While it is clear that the Porters did love each other in their fashion, the marriage did not come without a price. Of the two, Linda Porter paid more dearly. At first she did not mind her husband’s dalliances; however, Cole never stopped chasing every Tom Dick and Harry. Porter thought discretion was merely 'dishonesty wrapped up in good breeding.' When the Porters moved to Hollywood, the pace accelerated and Linda felt quite left out of her husband’s homosexual lifestyle. For a while they separated but were brought back together when Porter broke both his legs in a horseback riding accident which left him crippled. The accident did curtail his indiscretions to a degree. In one scene Linda is dying and Porter tells her that he wrote all his love songs for her. She replies, 'Maybe some, not all,' in a tone which lets us know 'some' means only 'a few' at best.

"My frequent complaints with biopics of artists are that they often miss the mark when it comes to the creative part of the story and fall short in explaining how the art and the personal life of the artist blend together. No such complaints here. (Note: see Scot's review for details about the sequence of the songs not matching the sequence of events.)The story of Porter’s life is told as aged Cole Porter watches a dress rehearsal of his life on stage. We watch Porter compose many of his brilliant songs sitting at the piano with his trusty bottle of scotch to keep him company. Using almost 30 Porter songs appropriate to telling the story, the stage production begins with Cole and Linda meeting and ends with them as lovers on stage. Lovers? Everything in the film up to this point has told us otherwise. Unfortunately, the ending is neither suitable nor particularly honest.

"Kevin Kline does a decent job; Ashley Judd is lovely. Porter’s songs have been featured in at least 85 movies. In DE-LOVELY many of the musical numbers are sung in the context of the story by today’s musical stars: Alanis Morissette, Robbie Williams, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Mick Hucknall and Natalie Cole to name a few. My fervent hope was that I would get to see Aaron Neville sing 'In the Still of the Night' which he sang so hauntingly on the Cole Porter tribute compilation, 'Red, Hot and Blue.' Alas, it was not to be. 3 cats"

 

Michael says: "While my opinion of DE-LOVELY wasn't nearly as low as Scot's, I was very pleased that I didn't spend any money on it. Let me preface by saying that I'm not a fan of biopics (we'd watched LADY SINGS THE BLUES the night before on video and I was suitably unimpressed. Two biopics about musicians in a row? Probably not a good idea.) I've been wracking my brain for biopics that I have really enjoyed and I'm sure there are a few, but they elude me at the moment. Anyone have any suggestions?

Still, I'm a sucker for a musical number, and I thought they were well presented here. The 'music videos' that Scot mentioned were fun to watch. I particularly enjoyed Alanis Morisette, but Elvis Costello and Robbie Williams were a lot of fun as well. The recreations of numbers from Porter's stage shows were fun as well.

Acting was fine, but here's another confession... I'm not crazy about Kevin Kline! I know, it's shocking. I really don't think I've every recovered from A FISH CALLED WANDA, which (and I'll stun everyone again) I reviled. Oh, and it was overlong... especially toward the end. 1 1/2 cats"

 

Scot says: "To everyone who wanted to take the extra pass Michael had for the new biopic of Cole Porter’s life, but couldn’t, I say, 'Consider yourselves lucky.' It was de-lousy.

"I hate to discourage *anyone* from seeing more musicals, but this one was just embarrassing. As I understood the pre-release press, DE-LOVELY was meant to correct the mistakes made NIGHT AND DAY (1946) starring Cary Grant. Certainly, the new film acknowledges Porter’s romantic relationships with other men, but the entire focus of the film is still his 35 year marriage to Kentucky socialite Linda Thomas Porter. Rather than treating the relationship as a 'business marriage,' as most scholars suggest it was, director Irwin Winkler and screenwriter Jay Cocks present Linda as the one great love of Porter’s life. Yes, once again we are presented with a great big hetero romance about a great historical figure who almost certainly preferred to play in a different band.

"As if that isn’t enough to make you wince, the film is just a bad musical. Musicals establish their own reality where singing and dancing is the preferred means of expressing inner thoughts and desires. However, the reality follows its own established set of rules. In CABARET or CHICAGO, performance songs mix with presentational book numbers to comment on the plot. DE-LOVELY tries to do the same thing by allowing Kevin Kline as Porter to perform famous tunes in the context of his own biography. And of course, I’m sure you’re all aware the film is peppered with little music videos by popular recording artists like Robbie Williams, Alanis Morrisette, Diana Krall, and Elvis Costello.

"But while the performance songs anchor the little bit of Porter’s career we can actually follow, the 'book numbers' borrow willy-nilly from his entire songbook regardless of when they were written. For example, when Cole meets Linda for the first time, he gets her attention by singing 'Well Did You Evah?' which wasn’t written until 1938. Then at their wedding in 1919, Robbie Williams performs on stage 'It’s De-lovely,' written in 1936. But when we don’t hear any songs from Kiss Me, Kate or Anything Goes until they’ve had their premieres in the story. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I’d expect the filmmakers to commit to either a biopic or an entirely fictitious musical. It’s not innovative to mix the conventions, it’s careless. Anyone expecting to learn anything of Porter’s career will be very confused. And anyone expecting to learn the facts of his personal life (as I said before) will be severely misled. Even the song 'Easy to Love,' reportedly written for male companion Ed Tauch, is presented as an expression of Cole’s love for Linda. Insulting.

"More thoughts: This film was produced by UA, but was distributed in part by MGM. While L.B. Mayer is no longer around, I’m sure the studio had an interest in romanticizing Porter’s life. He did most of his film work there.

"If what you love about Porter are his witty lyrics, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Only a few of his clever rhymes are highlighted in the film. Most of the soundtrack consists of his love songs. I like those too, but it’s an awful lopsided look at his career.

"If your knowledge of American popular music of the early 20th century is slight, let me just tell you this: Irving Berlin (who wrote 'God Bless America') was not British. The lousy accent Keith Allen (24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, SHALLOW GRAVE) employs would leave you wondering.

"And it’s not just me who thinks this way. One woman booed the screen when the end titles began to roll.

"It’s hard to write an entertaining biography of a person whose private life is mostly speculation. And I don’t have any complaints about the leading actors in this film. But if I want to watch a romanticized white-washed romance, I’d rather watch Cary Grant. Half a cat for the minimal effort.