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July 2004
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Remembrance Through Memorable Statements: America, in Mourning, Looks at the Death of Three Icons


Linklater, Hawke and Delpy Still Have Magic Chemistry


Porter's Great Music Remembered in
De-Loving Biopic


Ferrell Goes All Out to Bring You the News


The Emperor Has No Clothes: 'Napoleon Dynamite' Not Even an Indie Firecracker

This Sequel's Spidey Senses are Tingling
 
 
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Porter’s Great Music Remembered in De-Loving Biopic
 
by Jeremy Mathews
 
Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd play genius songwriter Cole Porter and his wife Linda in the new musical biopic "De-Lovely."
 

“De-Lovely”
M-G-M Films
Directed by Irwin Winkler
Written by Jay Cocks
Produced by Rob Cowan, Charles Winkler and Irwin Winkler
Starring Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Sandra Nelson, Allan Corduner, Peter Polycarpou, Keith Allen, James Wilby, Kevin McKidd, Richard Dillane, Edward Baker-Duly, Robbie Williams, Lemar Obika, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morisette, John Barrowman, Caroline O’Connor, Sheryl Crow, Mick Hucknall, Diana Krall, Vivian Green, Lara Fabian, Mario Frangoulis and Natalie Cole

(out of four)

They say that spring means just one thing to little love birds
We’re not above birds
Let’s misbehave
—Cole Porter

Cole Porter wrote some of the best songs of all time, but his life was never quite as flawless as his unforgettable lyrics and melodies might inspire you to believe. Irwin Winkler’s “De-Lovely” breaks down the myths created in films like Michael Curtiz’s “Night and Day” (1946) and shows his conflicted and layered romantic life, with Kevin Kline superbly handling the man’s psyche. At the same time, it doesn’t neglect the celebration of his songs.

The film studies Porter’s life with love for his music and an unflinching look at his sordid personal life, including his homosexuality and his complicated yet loving relationship with his wife, Linda (Ashley Judd). He meets her after livening a party with “Well, Did You Evah?” and is soon singing her love songs.

 
  As Linda Porter, Ashley Judd plays a woman who isn't trapped in the plot mechanisms of a bad thriller, giving her the opportunity to show off her acting abilities.

Porter couldn’t be an open homosexual, and Linda had already had a bad, abusive first marriage. The two find a certain intimacy and affection for one another through both interest in one another and a lack of interests in other areas. Kline and Judd have a wonderful chemistry, with insinuating dialogue and telling glances that reveal the passions behind their lives.

Kline plays Porter as a man uncertain of songwriting and success, who was much older when he entered the business than most of his contemporaries, like the popular Irving Berlin (Keith Allen), who befriends Porter and helps him break onto Broadway. After finding success, he searches more and more for the pleasures that his married life doesn’t offer him.

Judd, in one of her best performances (for once no one’s trying to kill her and she’s not trying to kill anyone), plays a woman as understanding as one can be, who is perhaps too forgiving. She lets herself believe that it won’t bother her, but Cole tends to lose control of his impulses and desires.

The film is framed in the somewhat incomplete premise of a stage musical about his life that Porter is watching in a sort of afterlife. Jonathan Pryce plays the director who watches the play with Porter, and makes the final decisions, since the era of “the composer is king” has ended. Porter occasionally interrupts (“This is one of those avant-garde things, isn’t it?), pointing out questionable or incomplete representations of his life.

The device works as a chance to use some of Porter’s own thoughts on his life and reputation, but “De-Lovely” isn’t trying to break new ground and actually recalls the works from the golden age of the musical more than any recent musical hits. Winkler presents the songs in their classic fashion, rather than the electronic arrangements that have become popular in some circles.

 
  Elivis Costello 's rendition of "Let's Misbehave" is just one of several Porter songs interpreted by pop stars in "De-Lovely."

Simply including a healthy assortment of Porter’s song guarantees that a film will be pleasant because you can always just listen to the incendiary melodies and perfectly fluid and complex lyrics. The soundtrack includes standards like “Let’s Do It” and “Night and Day,” but also lesser known gems like “Let’s Misbehave.”

Kline abandons his singing ability in order to create a warbly reproduction of Porter’s voice. He and Judd sing closer to how their characters’ voices would sound, but they still capture the layered emotions of the songs. Energized voices come from an assortment of stars including Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette, Natalie Cole and Sheryl Crow and Robbie Williams. This is the kind of musical in which the music is part of the characters’ lives, so simply casting these musicians as exuberant stage and club performers of Porter’s songs doesn’t feel at all forced. While the interpretations vary in quality, a love for the music runs through all of their performances. And whatever troubles he might have had in life, if anyone deserves their songs to be so lovingly cared for, it’s Cole Porter.

jeremy@red-mag.com

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