Cole Porter had a
fascinating, intense, brilliant and tragic life. He was one of the
true geniuses of American songwriting. He was a dandy showman.
He was a loving husband. He was a partier, a drunkard, an excessive
smoker and a barely closeted homosexual in a time when being a gay man was
akin to being a pariah. It is the stuff of brilliant drama and it goes
without saying that the score will be stellar.
De-Lovely is Hollywood's second
whack at Porter's life. Night and Day in 1946 was a highly
whitewashed Hollywood extravaganza helmed by Casablanca director
Michael Curtiz and starred Cary Grant as an impossibly suave fantasy of the
composer. (In fact, there is a scene in De-Lovely where the the
characters watch Night & Day and mock it as they leave the
screening.) De-Lovely comes much closer to capturing the
passion and the pathos and the splendor and the drama that was Cole Porter's
life. However, it still doesn't quite hit the mark.
The structure of the film is part of the
problem. It sounds brilliant in theory, an aged Porter (a heavily
made-up Kevin Kline) and a theatrical director (Jonathan Pryce) watch as
Porter's whole life is played out as a musical. This frame story
should work well, but it doesn't really; maybe because it is too reminiscent
of Chicago, or maybe because the scenes where we return to the
theater from full sets and location scenes become a little distracting.
It does, however, open up the story to full musical productions of some of
the greatest songs of the 20th century, so the idea does have some serious
The true narrative thrust is centered upon
Porter and his wife Linda (Ashley Judd), as it should be. This is the
true meat of the story. She was his muse, she was his companion, she
was his one true love. He did obviously try to make himself the man
that she wanted to be. However, both recognized that he was attracted
to men. At first Linda felt that she could ignore his
peccadilloes. Linda was coming out of an abusive marriage when she met
Porter. So the idea of living with a brilliant man who had talent,
potential and was not looking for a lover appealed to her. However, as
they are together over the years, Linda finds it harder and harder to
overlook his little dates.
Kline is spectacular in the title role,
playing Porter from a young man in his 20s to an old broken down man in his
80s. Judd also does wonderful work as Linda, reminding you what a
terrific actress she can be when she isn't in some stupid revenge potboiler.
The songs are mostly rather well done.
Some of the pop stars performing (such as Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette,
Sheryl Crow, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red) can be a bit of a distraction, but
the choreography is suitably old-fashioned and exuberant.
The frame story sometimes works against
this film, though. Because it is a musical, they gloss over some of
the more heart-rending parts of Porter's life. His relationships with
other men are touched on enough to show that he is gay, but only one or two
times do we actually see Porter in the midst of a relationship, either as a
kiss or a post-bed conversation. A horsing accident which made Porter
a near cripple for the rest of his life is also a major plot point that is
shown often, but we are never quite given enough background. We are
told he has to go through intensive physical therapy and many painful
surgeries, but we never actually see these.
The idea of Porter and Linda having a
child comes and goes quickly, as does the fact that Linda finally gets
pregnant and then has a miscarriage. Porter's relationship with
Linda turns a little quickly from true love to a couple almost always having
arguments. The scene where Linda dies of lung cancer seems particularly
sheened over, she just coughs a bit, closes her eyes and fades away.
This was all planned,
though, it seems. At one point in the frame story, the elderly Porter chides
the director after watching a particularly painful memory, telling him that
this is a musical, people don't want to see this kind of sadness.
Maybe they are right. In the end, Cole Porter's life should be
secondary to his amazing body of work. In this case, De-Lovely
accomplishes what it has set out for. It may not be a perfect
biography, but it is one hell of a song and dance revue. (7/04)
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Posted: August 15, 2004.