De-Lovely

| July 3, 2004

Let me begin by saying that when I entered the theater, I knew virtually nothing about Cole Porter. I came out feeling pretty much the same way. Based on the life of the celebrated American composer, De-Lovely is a film – half biography, half musical – that seeks to shed light onto the musician’s life and loves.
Unfortunately, it was difficult to get into director Irwin Winkler’s latest film from the get-go. We come to Porter (Kevin Kline) already at the end of his life. He’s an old man, alone and forlorn in an empty auditorium, when he receives a sudden visitor (Jonathan Pryce). Is it a friend? Is it God? Is it the janitor telling him they’re closing up for the night? One doesn’t know for sure. Apparently, he’s there to walk Porter through the events of his life. The “why” of it is never answered. Within moments, a cast has assembled on stage. Porter recognizes them as friends, lovers and acquaintances from his past. Together, they begin the first musical number of the film. And that’s where the movie lost me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the musical… when it works. It just doesn’t here. More than anything, this number and those following were only reminders that I was watching a movie, taking me out of the story of this man’s life. From that first huge number, the film awkwardly cuts to a Europe emerging from World War I. Cole, young and vital, is residing in Paris. While making the social rounds, he meets American divorcee, Linda Thomas (Ashley Judd). Despite Porter’s obvious homosexual inclinations, the couple hits it off and marries.
The main conflict of the film is supposedly Linda’s ever-growing resentment that her husband is not truly hers, body and soul. While she deals with these inner demons, she must also fight to have Cole take his career seriously. She is both his biggest fan and critic. The film’s tension builds to a climax but prematurely resolves after Porter sustains a crippling injury some years later. He is suddenly a completely different person, one who neither seeks nor enjoys the limelight in which he once reveled. More incredulous is the fact that now Linda has also had a change of heart. She even pushes a “partner” onto Cole for companionship. The rest of the film fades away long before the credits roll.
While the performances of Kline and Judd are noteworthy, the problems of the script are just too much to overcome. Both the uneven storyline and musical concept prevent any viewer from really getting to know just who Cole Porter was. I’m sure it seemed like a great idea to make a musical from the life of this gifted composer, but then again, the Edsel and Coca-Cola probably sounded great at the time, too.

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