Here is the problem with De-Lovely: It seems like a great movie. It’s got all the trend of a musical (after Chicago, the new “it” of Hollywood), all the glamour of famous musicians’ cameos, and all the intelligence of both Cole Porter and Kevin Kline.
Unfortunately, De-Lovely is not as great as it seems.
There are areas in which the film deserves praise. It takes the ingenious idea of presenting the life of Cole Porter, one of the greatest songwriters and musicians of the 20th century, as an enormous stage production. No one can argue — that thought was brilliant. Same goes for the execution — the camera works its way beautifully between the “sets” and the set, between actors and audience, between the old and young Cole.
Kline’s performance as Cole is brilliant. He embodies the intelligence, enigma and openness of Porter with impeccable verity. Kline can overcome any mishap thrown at him by the director and screenwriter and come out on top. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the film itself.
The story, more sappy than entertaining, begins with a bang and has nothing to upstage it. The latter part of the film, which mainly deals with sickness and death, may induce a few tears, but it only makes Porter’s life seem sad and de-sexualized, much like one of the central plot points — Cole’s marriage to wife Linda.
This, unfortunately, brings up Ashley Judd, trying with all her might to give a good portrait of Linda. As the most celebrated citizen of Kentucky, Judd stands as verification to the theory that you can take a girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of a girl. She tries hard to act sophisticated, but unfortunately, pointing her head up and speaking in a slow, calculated tone hardly makes anyone upper class. Judd’s few moments of mediocrity are greatly outweighed by the times during which her performance is the least convincing of anyone in the entire movie.
Director Irwin Winkler put too much effort and not enough thought into the film. His grand production, obviously made on a significant budget, starts to fizzle out near the middle of the film, without even a remote possibility of anything bringing life back into it. Even the final number, a supposed pick-me-up, does nothing more than wallow in the depressing unavoidability of Porter’s death.
The lack of fizzle cannot be contributed solely to Winkler. Writer Jay Cocks, ironically a former film critic for Rolling Stone and writer for TIME magazine, lets the depressing parts of Porter’s life dominate the good ones. Instead of presenting Porter as triumphant over an unaccepting society, Cocks changes focus from Porter’s works to his life without a sensible tie between the two.
De-Lovely tries to be a testament to Cole Porter’s life and death and the legacy of songs which he left behind by imitating the style in which he wrote musicals. But as hard as Winkler and Cocks may have tried, De-Lovely is no great movie. If not for Kline’s superb performance and Porter’s brilliant songs, the movie may have been just another dismissible summer film.
Musical, PG-13, Running time: 125 min.