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De-Lovely is an original musical portrait of American composer Cole Porter, filled with his unforgettable songs. In the film, Porter is looking back on his life as if it was one of his spectacular stage shows, with the people and events of his life becoming the actors and action onstage. Through elaborate production numbers and popular hits like "Anything Goes," "It's De-Lovely," and "Night and Day," Porter's elegant, excessive past comes to light - including his deeply complicated relationship with his wife and muse, Linda Lee Porter. Written by
As a biography, De-Lovely is not historically accurate, but as drama and a tribute to Cole Porter, a prodigious talent in musical theater, it is sublime. Kevin Kline is perfectly cast in spirit as the songwriter extraordinaire who stormed Broadway as Hollywood beckoned. His marriage to Linda Porter (a terrific Ashley Judd) is a relationship of lasting love fraught with infidelity and heartbreak in which Porter is portrayed as an insatiable artist whose homoerotic dalliances were legend. The timeline spans the 1920's through the 1950's. This is not so much a simple biopic but, rather, an interesting depiction of Porter's constant struggle to find happiness in love and life and it proves to be an addictive intoxication. As his accepting and understanding wife grows increasingly frustrated with his lies and deception amid his growing list of male suitors, Porter's life and health begin to unravel.
Serving as a framework for the life events is a curious narration of sorts by an aged Porter and a mysterious host/angel (a nice theatrical turn by Jonathan Pryce). This bracketing narration is reminiscent of A Christmas Carol, and there are striking similarities to the classic All That Jazz in narrative and tone. The main story is told in a series of mini-vignettes; some scenes are almost too brief. Then there are the songs. It is truly phenomenal just how many wonderful Porter songs became standards. The recreations of many of his top hits are interspersed throughout the film and are performed often by top vocalists including some amusing cameos by Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette, and Natalie Cole. The songs serve to parallel and punctuate the life events throughout the story in much the same way paintings served as a co-narrative in Frieda.
Although production values are good for a period and location piece, it feels a little less grand in scope than it ought to be. Perhaps that works in the films favor as a more intimate story. Standout credit goes to the makeup effects especially showing the aging of Kevin Kline's character. The camera work and editing are imaginative especially in a series of circular tracking shots which seamlessly meld one timeframe with another. The music is timeless and enjoyable even when sung in pedestrian fashion by Kline. And regarding Kline, he deserves an Oscar nomination for a richly etched portrait of a tortured soul whose search for true love spanned his entire life. Perhaps in the hands of Bob Fosse or Baz Luhrmann, this could have really launched into a wildly imaginative send-off of a musical genius, but director Irwin Winkler (a respected producer turned director like Alan Pakula) has done Cole Porter proud.
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