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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.48%
Worth A Look: 22.95%
Pretty Bad: 18.03%
Total Crap: 4.92%

6 reviews, 25 user ratings

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by Stephen Groenewegen

"De-Old fashioned"
3 stars

Box office success and Oscars for Moulin Rouge! and Chicago has encouraged Hollywood to reacquaint itself with the live action musical. It’s also apparently revived the sub-genre of musical biography. Later this year, Jamie Foxx will sing and sway as the late Ray Charles in Ray and Kevin Spacey directs himself as Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea. First to hit the screen is Kevin Kline as songwriter Cole Porter in Irwin Winkler’s De-Lovely.

The story begins with Porter a young and carefree American in Paris. His sexual tastes incline towards handsome and stocky young men, but he finds himself flattered by the attentions of the rich and glamorous Linda Lee (Ashley Judd). He enjoys seducing her and finds himself sufficiently seduced in return to propose matrimony. Lee is determined to see Porter’s talent brought to proper attention and she introduces him to legendary tunesmith Irving Berlin. Soon Porter is the toast of Broadway and lured to Hollywood to write musicals for Louis B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou) at MGM. Cole and Linda’s marriage of convenience starts becoming inconvenient when he proves unable to resist the siren call of regular man o’ man sex. Linda walks, and it takes unexpected tragedy to reunite husband and wife.

De-Lovely is a tribute to the lavish, colourful and old-fashioned MGM musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. Eve Stewart’s production design and Janty Yates’s costumes are gorgeous, and certain to be Oscar-nominated come 2005. What sets De-Lovely apart from a standard biopic are two gimmicks. One is having an aged (or ghostly?) Porter watching his life performed as if it was a stage show or movie, directed by Jonathan Pryce’s narrator. This allows Porter to comment on the action, but it’s a clunky and contrived way to tell a story. It takes a while to get your head around exactly what Winkler and screenwriter Jay Cocks are trying to do. It does allow them to present a stylised representation of Cole Porter’s life without restrictive fidelity to the facts.

The second gimmick is to insert contemporary music stars into the story so they can sing Porter’s songs. Robbie Williams struts the stage as a wedding singer to croon “It’s de-lovely”. Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) appears as a singer-actor on the MGM set of one of Porter’s films. Alanis Morissette performs “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love” as a cast member of a Broadway musical.

The eagerness of a range of artists (from Sheryl Crow to Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole to Diana Krall) to interpret Porter’s songs speaks volumes about his talent and longevity. But an extrovert like Robbie Williams doesn’t exactly blend into the background, and Morissette seems too contemporary for the 1920s. Most successful are a powerhouse rendition of “Anything Goes” by Australian Caroline O’Connor (Moulin Rouge!) and a sultry “Love for Sale” by Vivian Green.

Kline turns out to be a perfect match for the part. He’s debonair and suave, with a suitably caustic wit and a straightforward singing voice. A playful rendition of “Well, Did You Evah?” is an early highlight. He realises that being Linda’s soul mate is not enough for a happy marriage, and the sadness this causes is clear from his whole demeanour. There’s something seedy in the portrayal of Porter’s illicit gay affairs, but it’s also refreshingly matter-of-fact; he’s responding to a natural compulsion.

Narrator Jonathan Pryce demonstrates on “Blow Gabriel Blow” what a capable voice he has and it’s a shame we don’t hear more of him. Ashley Judd is suited to playing the younger Linda – she frocks up well and her over-emphatic line-readings suit the witty banter. She makes a meal of the later dramatic scenes and looks awkward in the unflattering aging make-up.

Winkler bungles the staging of the riding accident that cripples Porter with some clumsy and confusing cross cutting to Linda overseas. The scene is pivotal, but it comes out of nowhere and is almost over before you have time to register what’s happening. The screenplay also leaves only half explained the story of one of Porter’s standards, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”. In one scene he is composing “I love you” for MGM and mumble-sings “I love you – under my skin” to the familiar tune. But we never return to discover the genesis of the more famous song. It’s a pity since one of the best moments has Porter explaining to a musical actor how to interpret “Night and Day”. It grants a welcome opportunity to really listen to the song, contemplate its meaning and actually learn something.

De-Lovely suffers the same fate as a lot of showbiz biographies – it doesn’t know how to retain interest or, for that matter, when to end. Porter’s popularity inevitably waned in the twilight of his career, and his biggest hit songs all feature in the first half. As presented here, his later years were - frankly - dreary, and he became a bitter and lonely old man (he died in his seventies). De-Lovely deflates like a balloon after the midpoint and Winkler is unable to rouse proceedings with an upbeat finale. If you’re going to use a device like an omniscient, personal narrator to take liberties with Porter’s life why not take advantage of it and end on a high?

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originally posted: 06/21/04 18:39:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/25/11 xfather123 C7ybFR this is delisious! xfather123 2 stars
9/02/10 L. Slusarczyk Love Kline in this and the music. Wish there was more Barrowman :D 5 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann Neutered, covertly homophobic drivel! Porter must be turning in his grave! 1 stars
3/19/07 Ed Brusaw Loved it. Loved it. Loved it 4 stars
2/28/06 Rich Milczarek An exhilarating tribute to the genius of Cole Porter - Kline is De-Lightful! 5 stars
12/31/05 tatum Kline's good, but Porter's life isn't put into context 4 stars
8/08/05 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Love for sale sequence is pure genius. The rest falls a bit flat. 4 stars
8/04/05 Captain Craig Anyone who doesnt think this film is fabulos probably liked Star Wars! 5 stars
3/07/05 ad nicely done 4 stars
2/20/05 David Siegel A disappointing, sometimes confusing quasi-biopic that finds the pathos and loses the joy. 2 stars
2/01/05 Kenneth Hannan Gorgeous, touching film. 4 stars
2/01/05 Alison Mosbeck Not nearly as good as I'd hoped...Finding Neverland was much better 2 stars
1/29/05 darlenecom I had been so looking forward to seeing this one. 3 stars
1/18/05 Leon Hoffman Powerful! Poignant! Out of this musical world! 5 stars
10/19/04 Misty De Meo It's de-lovely. ;3 It had some rough points, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. 4 stars
10/05/04 cpu Gorgeous, fantastic music, clunky sure, but it's a MOVIE! 5 stars
8/23/04 Bruce Lamb Boring and pretentious. Frame plot was stolen from All that Jazz. No suspense. 2 stars
7/26/04 Ogden Nield Superbly done enactment of Porter's eccentric life. Oscar performances by Kline and Judd. 5 stars
7/24/04 buddy garrett The music is great. Cole Porter is acted well. 4 stars
7/20/04 Suzz kline is great; imaginatively staged;current singers did not do Porter justice 5 stars
7/15/04 dt great songs and look of period-I liked it a lot 4 stars
7/04/04 ZF Stilted, static, shallow, no depth of character. And the music was usually performed badly. 1 stars
7/03/04 Boyinthedesignerbubble The Porter biography is a good read, the movie, sadly leaves out interesting facts. 3 stars
6/23/04 Lauren Nissen Maybe it was because I had to pee really bad, but it never caught my attention. 2 stars
6/15/04 Brent Usry Throw a few big names on the screen, use a great camera and pray for distribution. Pathetic 1 stars
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  02-Jul-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Dec-2004



Directed by
  Irwin Winkler

Written by
  Jay Cocks

  Kevin Kline
  Ashley Judd
  Jonathan Pryce
  Angie Hill
  Sheryl Crow
  Elvis Costello

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