After multiple viewings of De-Lovely I still cannot understand the unanimous negative press that this film has received. This new musical biopic about the life, loves and musical genius of Cole Porter has been heavily criticized for being too "de-pressing" and relying too much on Porter’s music to fill in for plot development. But to blame this film because of such things is almost as equal as criticizing a film about the Holocaust for sensationalizing the role of the Nazis or a film about Jesus Christ for being too violent or for being too depressing.
Cole Porter’s life was what it was and a lot of it consisted of many emotional highs and lows and plenty of music. To remove such elements from a biopic about his life would be as unforgivable as to re-write history for the sake of entertainment. Not surprisingly one of the most negative reviews by The New York Times refers to De-Lovely as “a movie so lifeless and drained of genuine joie de vivre it makes you long for the largely fictional earlier film Night and Day” which “may be factually absurd,'' but “after all, starred Cary Grant.” With that kind of logic towards what makes a good or bad film I’ll take a bad film any day. De-Lovely is not a bad film or an average film. As far as I am concern De-Lovely is a fantastic piece of entertainment that never underestimates it’s audience's intelligence.
De-Lovely comes much closer to capturing the passion and the drama that was Cole Porter's life. It avoids whitewashing the good and bad aspects of the genius of Cole Porter and uses his words and music to enlighten us about his life in an admirable cinematic fashion. Directed by Irwin Winkler with a screenplay by Jay Cocks, De-Lovely differs from the 1940 film Night and Day by acknowledging Porter's homosexuality, his mental depression dulled by drugs and alcohol and by using very carefully Cole Porter’s lyrics to get inside its main protagonists psyche. Porter's love songs were packed with juicy double-entendres, and an appreciation of the erotic life with all of its peaks and valleys. The director and screenwriter cleverly weave these songs as part of the story to move the drama forward.
The film uses the framing device of a fantasy of an aging Cole Porter viewing a stage production of his life with the help of a mysterious stranger named Gabe, a theater director. The movie jumps from Paris in the 1920's, to Venice, Los Angeles, Connecticut and New York. We are introduced to the one true love of his life: his wife which started initially as a marriage of convenience and generated into something deeper but mostly platonic. We follow Porter’s successes, liaisons with other men, marital conflicts, his horse back riding accident and his encounters with depression and the death of loved ones. All along pointed by his music presented in realistic settings, rehearsals, stage productions and fantasy musical numbers. And oh what music we hear!
Over two dozen Porter songs are performed by contemporary singers like Robbie Williams (at the Porter wedding), Elvis Costello (''Let's Misbehave''), Alanis Morissette (''Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love'' as a lead actress in one of Cole’s stage shows), Sheryl Crow (performing an interesting variation in key minor of ''Begin the Beguine'') , Diana Krall (''Just One of Those Things'') and Natalie Cole. My personal favorite being John Barrowman’s rendition of ‘Night and Day’ as Porter has to explain to his star exactly what the song means – romantic obsession.
In "De-Lovely" Porter’s lyrics take on an ambiguity never before explored once you understand that they are not necessarily written about heterosexual love. After we witness one of his many liaisons with men, Porter is seen singing and playing in his piano “It's the wrong game, with the wrong chips… Though your lips are tempting, they're the wrong lips… They're not her lips, but they're such tempting lips…” while his wife stares at him in alienated fashion.
Kevin Kline is spectacular and marvelous as Cole Porter. He buries himself in the role playing his sexual ambiguity with subtlety and intelligence, he is elegant, witty, theatrical and brave in the face of society. His later scenes as the aged and embittered Porter are the film's most emotionally compelling. Ashley Judd, radiates as Linda Porter with charisma and energy looking fabulous in her '20s couture and the always terrific Jonathan Pryce shines as the theatre director in the framing device sequences.
The cinematography is elegant. The musical numbers are cleverly choreographed. The sets, costumes, and locations are all spectacular and the art direction excels in capturing Porter's time and place.
The works of Cole Porter are above the level of standard Hollywood fluff, so no wonder that so many critics misunderstood this film. De-Lovely is not afraid to only examine Porter’s genuine joie de vivre, but also goes down deeper relying on the immortal words of the genius himself to drive the storyline. Porter had a fascinating, complex and also tragic life and De-Lovely is not only afraid to explore that “anything goes” in life but that for every peak there’ s also a valley. This film is wonderful with all of its ambiguities, intelligent with its audience and to quote the genius of Porter is also “De Top!” filmaking.