Combustible Celluloid
Get the Poster
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
Download at i-tunes Download on iTunes
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Sandra Nelson, Allan Corduner, Peter Polycarpou, Kevin McKidd, Angie Hill
Written by: Jay Cocks
Directed by: Irwin Winkler
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content
Running Time: 125
Date: 05/22/2004

De-Lovely (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Fencing Me In

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

De-Lovely has a walking-on-eggshells feel to it, as if it's afraid to move too far one way or the other. For a movie about the man who wrote "Let's Misbehave," there's an awful lot of behaving going on here.

One self-referential moment in De-Lovely shows Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) and his wife Linda (Ashley Judd) attending a private screening of a new bio-pic about his life, Night and Day (1946). Afterwards, they enjoy a good laugh at its unsullied fictional portrait, but they agree that it's good to be immortalized by Cary Grant.

The creators of De-Lovely clearly wanted to right this wrong by presenting a new warts-and-all biopic, featuring the previously hidden details of Porter's life -- most notably the fact that he slept with men.

I'm certainly no expert on Cole Porter, but De-Lovely has a large hollow spot where the filmmakers seem to have skimmed too much of the complexities of a life away to compress this great songwriter's story into a two-hour movie.

The film begins with a ghostly wraparound sequence in which a dead or dying Porter is escorted to a theater by an angelic figure, Gabe (Jonathan Pryce). Together they will direct a play about Porter's life. Porter can give notes, but the actors can only hear Gabe.

This Bob Fosse-like opening leads us to believe that we're going to get another surreal musical experience with lots of artifice, like One from the Heart, Moulin Rouge or Chicago. But, it all turns quite literal far too fast, failing to explain or justify the wraparound sequences.

The bulk of the movie then describes the highlights of Porter's life without the juicy details. He meets Linda (Ashley Judd) at a party. They sing "Well, Did You Evah?" together. He courts her, but admits to her in subtle terms that he likes men. She says its okay and they get married. He writes lots of songs. They move from New York to Hollywood. Cole has lots of affairs and drinks a lot and loses the use of his legs in a horse-riding accident. He struggles to regain the use of his legs while his wife battles sickness (illustrated by the usual movie cough).

The horse-riding accident scene represents the basic problem with this movie. Because of this film's highlighting, events come across as single scenes rather than part of a complex picture. We never get any previous information that Porter likes riding horses or doing anything athletic. The scene doesn't fit with anything else that has come before, and so we can sense too early that something bad is going to happen. Otherwise, why would we be looking at Cole Porter riding a horse?

This is not to say that the film doesn't have its charms. Some of the musical numbers are quite appealing, especially when guest stars join in: Elvis Costello, Alanis Morisette, Robbie Williams, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall and Natalie Cole do their best work on some of Porter's standards. When Costello sings "Let's Misbehave," he throws in a funny little dance to go with it.

Kline even gets in an ironic "Be a Clown" upon entering Hollywood and realizing that his work must be "dumbed-down" for the moving pictures. (On this I beg to differ. Porter's scores enhanced some very beautiful films from the period, such as Broadway Melody of 1940, The Pirate and An American in Paris.)

Overall, Kline is good as Porter, even if his performance has "performance" written all over it; it's more skilled than it is genuine. I admire Kline very much, but if I were Cole Porter, I think I would have preferred the Cary Grant version.

Judd has perhaps her most challenging role since Ruby in Paradise, but it's still not meaty enough to really sink her chops into. In the end, it's nothing more than a "fretting wife" part. Frankly, she had more to do in the recent, underrated Twisted.

Director Irwin Winkler (Guilty by Suspicion) and writer Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York) are both associated with Martin Scorsese. As a producer, Winkler's name is on some of Scorsese's most acclaimed works. Yet his directorial credits leave a lot to be desired. Easily forgettable films like Night and the City, The Net, At First Sight and Life as a House lack the personality and passion Scorsese brings. Sadly, De-Lovely feels about the same, like more of a chore than a joy.

DVD Details: It's pretty shameless how hard MGM is pushing for Oscars for this mediocre movie. They must not have anything else high-profile on their plate this year. MGM's DVD comes with two audio commentary tracks, one by director Winkler with Kevin Kline and one by Winkler with writer Jay Cocks. Other extras include a making-of featurette, an "about the music" featurette, an "Anatomy of a Scene" special, delted scenes and trailers.

Movies Unlimtied