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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 Jay Seaver

"Plenty to like, but problematic"
3 stars

Cole Porter is a difficult subject for a biography. He has no humble beginning, he is so touched by genius that one cannot watch him struggle to create his art, and he was often a first-class jerk to the person who loved him most. He is, however, a fabulous subject for a musical, as he comes complete with wit, charm, a true love, wonderful settings, and dozens of fantastic songs.

Mostly, the film realizes this, and even comments on it. De-Lovely opens with a sort of angel played by Johnathan Pryce calling on Porter (Kevin Kline) to show him a musical based on his life. There's a great deal of wit in these scenes between Kline (in better-than-usual old-age makeup) and Pryce, as they make little comments about the form - how times have changed and the composer is no longer in charge, or how, when Porter says it's too early for another song, "Gabe" says that if he could say what he means as well as he could sing it, they wouldn't use one. This framing device also works to give a modern audience used to a more literal style of filmmaking a bit of a buffer zone: No, these people didn't really burst into song in the middle of their lives; we're watching people watch a sort of play, and they're singing in the play.

As an aside, it's somewhat unfortunate that the straight-ahead musical seems to be something of a lost art. Chicago presented its musical numbers as dream sequences; De-Lovely goes it one better and makes the whole movie a dream sequence of sorts. Of recent movies, Moulin Rouge comes the closest to the classic style, where the audience understood that this wasn't strictly literal (well, that and The Happiness of the Katakuris). I don't know whether this is a failure of filmmakers, the audience, or just that between us we're out of practice and need to re-establish this meme.

During the "up" periods, De-Lovely is great fun. There are beautiful sets, toe-tapping performances of Porter's songs, and a nice chemistry between Kline and Ashley Judd as his wife and muse, Linda Lee. She is realistic about what their marriage is; she makes a comment that Cole probably likes men more than she does (her abusive first marriage probably contributing to that). There's clear affection between the two, but also a sadness on her part - she doesn't expect him to share her bed, but she wants to come first.

That's a source of frustration for the movie - Cole never seems to learn that, until a horse-riding accident leaves him crippled. That's a symptom of a greater problem - the film never shows Porter as having much of a heart until his old age, as he learns Linda's health may be worse than his, or as he watches his life played out on the stage. He and Linda are obviously idle rich through the film's first half, and there's never much impetus for Porter to become more than a talented amateur. The elderly Porter smiles about all the fun he had, but there's never much but fun as a motivation. And when the accident makes playing the piano and writing music become hard work, it's difficult to see why Kline's Cole Porter would push on; there's nothing but "have fun now" to his character.

The performances are decent. Aside from the musical "guests", Kline, Judd, and Pryce are the only stars, which is fine - this is about the Porters, and we don't need anyone distracting from Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. Judd is quite good as Linda, looking fabulous in her period dress and occasionally showing what might have finally pushed Porter to success. She walks a very careful line, making Linda a strong personality but not a "power behind the throne" type. Pryce gives just what is needed as the "host", and manages well in his musical number.

Kevin Kline... Oh, man, Kevin Kline would have perfect for this ten or fifteen years ago. I'm not a big fan of musicals as a genre, but it is a crying shame that their almost complete absence from film during Kline's career has deprived us of possibly many great performances. Kline's voice is still passable, and he's still fairly spry, but he is possibly too old to play Porter as a young man. It's not quite intrusive, but it's not quite right, either. He and Ashley Judd don't quite look believable together until they've both had their hair dyed gray and started putting on the prosthetic cosmetics.

There's plenty to like about De-Lovely. The music is great, as are Kline and Judd. Kline and director Irwin Winkler somehow manage to make Porter a sympathetic character toward the end, despite giving him a lot of "spoiled, selfish rich guy" baggage. It's a near thing, though, and I have my suspicions that a good deal of the audience will look at the latter half of the movie as Porter getting what he deserves.

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originally posted: 07/04/04 08:54:04
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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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