De-Lovely (7/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

As Santa Monica piano arranger/performer Bill Augustine, says, ďThe only way to kill Cole Porter is to mess with his music.Ē And thatís exactly what Producer/Director Irwin Winkler does in De-Lovely.

Porter (Kevin Kline) wrote wonderful songs, but the film doesnít let us enjoy them because it interrupts about half of the numbers by starting a song, then cutting to dialogue, like Cole talking to his wife, Linda (Ashley Judd), and then cutting back to the song. The first song to be so shabbily treated was a captivating production number of Anything Goes. I wanted to see the entire number with the singing and dancing uninterrupted. Alas, it was not to be. Other songs that were so interrupted by dialogue were the wonderful Another Openiní, Another Show and Just One of Those Things. Some numbers were shown straight through, however, with no interruptions, like the terrific production number Be A Clown, sung by Porter and Louis B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou) on the old MGM lot in Culver City, and I Love You.

Another thing that I didnít like about the movie was that you donít learn much about the genealogy of the songs, how, when, and why they were written, with a few exceptions. In fact, some are basic misrepresentations. One of the first production numbers is Well, Did You Evah, sung in Paris during World War I when Cole and Linda first meet. While itís a charming performance, the song was written in 1939, not 1918, for DuBarry Was A Lady, and the lyrics were rewritten for a Frank Sinatra-Bing Crosby duet in the movie High Society (1955), 16 years later. Linda sings True Love sometime in the 1930s despite the fact that it was actually written for High Society (Crosby and Grace Kelly) after Linda had died.

This is an avant-garde way to tell the life story of Cole Porter to the detriment of his music and his life. What diminished it for me was the flashback method of telling the story. It starts out with Porter an old man watching some sort of heavenly stage telling of his story with Gabe (Jonathan Pryce), as what looks like the Producer, sitting in a vacant theater watching along with Cole and making comments. The problem with this is that the vibrancy of Porterís life is constantly flashing forward into the depressing ambience of a dying (already dead?) man.

Linda Porter must have been an unusually saintly woman, to have put up with Coleís homosexual infidelities (shown by several scenes of Kline kissing other men on the lips) all those years, and remaining devotedly in love with him, at least as portrayed by Judd. In the first half of the film Juddís performance seemed forced to me, but in the second hour she finds her rhythm and is the best thing in the movie at that point. Her short death scene is particularly moving.

Unlike most musicals, 90% of Klineís singing is live rather than lip-synced. Unfortunately, Klineís voice is not up to the songs. When we hear the professional singers (Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, among others) performing the songs, Klineís inadequate voice becomes apparent. It is especially glaring when Kline starts singing So In Love and Winkler then cuts to Mario Frangoulis singing it on stage.

 In an astonishing ending, Gabe tells Cole, ďNever begin with a ballad and never end with a ballad,Ē and the movie cuts from a slow ballad to an uptempo production number, Blow, Gabriel, Blow. Had the movie taken its own advice, it would have ended there. Instead, Winkler cuts back and ends it on a slow ballad! If he read his script (Jay Cocks), he didnít believe it. And if he doesn't, why should we?

June 29, 2004

The End