De-Lovely (United States/United Kingdom, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

As a bio-pic, De-Lovely is pretty standard, run-of-the-mill stuff (albeit with an interesting framing device). However, as a "best hits" collection of Cole Porter's music, it is unparalleled. With approximately two-dozen of his tunes performed by artists as diverse as Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, and Natalie Cole, this is a treasure trove of music and memories. It's that, rather than Irwin Winkler's unremarkable presentation of Porter's life, which makes De-Lovely worth seeing. That, and the de-lightful performance of Kevin Kline.

The story opens with an aged Porter (Kline) accompanying a musical stage director (Jonathan Pryce) to a theater where he is about to watch a re-enactment of his life. We're never told whether this is a dream or an after-death experience, but it doesn't much matter. Porter is taken on a literal trip down memory lane, with special attention paid to the one true love of his life: his wife, Linda (Ashley Judd). Interestingly enough, since Porter was gay, his relationship with Linda was largely platonic - their sexual encounters were few and unsatisfying, and they slept in separate bedrooms - but that did little to lessen the strength of their feelings for one another. She let him have as many male lovers as he needed, and he devoted his daylight hours to her.

The window into Cole's past opens in 1919 Paris, with the meeting between Cole and divorcee Linda. Soon, they are married, and Cole's career as a songwriter is taking off. While in Venice, he forms an important friendship with Irving Berlin (Keith Allen), and soon he has been requested to write a Broadway musical. So it's off to New York for the Porters. After that, the bright beacon of Hollywood beckons. Although Cole is initially reluctant to move to the West Coast, he eventually yields to Linda's persuasion, and becomes a workhorse for L.B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou). While living in California, Cole's marriage begins to deteriorate and his promiscuity increases, but, when tragedy strikes, Linda is again by his side.

The story is an adequate framework for the songs and for Kline's marvelous performance. The actor buries himself in the role, making Porter come alive on the screen. Ashley Judd, although capable, doesn't radiate the same degree of charisma or energy (although she looks good in '20s costumes). Linda is an important part of the story, to be sure, but Judd's work lacks the intensity of her co-star's. But this isn't really an actors' film. As in many musicals, the characters play second fiddle to the music. And, in this case, there are beginning-to-end recognizable tunes, including "It's De-Lovely," "Let's Misbehave," "Anything Goes," "Be a Clown," "I Love You," and "Ev'ry Time You Say Goodbye."

At 125 minutes, De-Lovely seems a little long, and there are times when it moves slowly. On the whole, however, it's an enjoyable experience, with the level of enjoyment influenced by how much a viewer knows and enjoys Porter's music. The love story is touching (and reminiscent of the Emma Thompson/Jonathan Pryce pairing in Carrington, also about the deeper-than-physical connection between a woman and a homosexual man), but not out of the ordinary. It's at least strong enough to hold our interest until the next musical number comes along - which is never more than a few minutes away.

De-Lovely (United States/United Kingdom, 2004)

Run Time: 2:05
U.S. Release Date: 2004-07-02
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1