This is an impression of the life and times and music of Cole Porter (Kevin Kline), some of it factual, some not. Above all, the film celebrates Porter's sense of wit and style, and his extraordinary body of work; songs -many written for shows - straight out of his creative heart. The film touches on his bi-sexuality, but is most detailed about his long marriage to Linda Lee (Ashley Judd), and the role this powerful relationship played in his sometimes dramatic private and public life. The story is revealed through the device of an ageing Porter, accompanied by a mystery story teller (Jonathan Pryce) seated in a theatre, watching his life and his songs played out on stage.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Irwin Winkler's adoring biography of Cole Porter does not sit comfortably within the confines of the bio-pic box, because even as Winkler himself admits, it's a broad outline of Cole's life, "placed within the framework of imagination, not scholarship." Whether it is true to Cole's spirit I can't tell, although it's tempting to believe it. Kline makes a complete and complex Porter, his weaknesses propped up by his strengths - and his naturally free flowing talent. Great talent. My teenage years were filled with his songs, and they still echo loudly.
Where Kline brings his urbanity and wit to the character, Ashley Judd joins him with a wonderfully emotive characterisation as Linda, the exceptionally loyal, understanding, broadminded and loving partner who was Porter's soulmate, even when his bi-sexuality might have driven other women away. This portrait suggests a love that transcends sexuality.
The film's story telling device is a twist on a tried and true formula. In Amadeus, for instance, the story of Mozart's life is told through the eyes of an ageing Salieri - his musical adversary - in flashbacks. Here, though, this approach is bungled by the execution. Jonathan Pryce's character is an unexplained distraction, playing no role in Porter's life. Even if that were overlooked, the device is clunky and off-putting. The presentation of Porter sitting in a theatre seat while supposedly watching glimpses of his work and life on stage creates transition problems, which Winkler has not solved. Sometimes we see the stage from Porter's pov, sometimes we fade into a flashback scene on film. We can't really tell what the stage performance is meant to be in the context of the extended film scenes of his early life.
All the same, there are some genuine highlights, notably a few key scenes between Cole Porter and Linda Lee, which are dramatically satisfying and deeply moving. And of course there is his music; songs whose lyrics and tunes represent some of the most lasting American music ever written, from the song that gives the film its title, to those personal favourites of mine like Anything Goes, Love For Sale, Ev'ry time We Say Goodbye, I Love Paris, Night and Day and so on. Each of the songs in the film is given to a contemporary artist (eg Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morisette, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Vivian Green, etc) who interprets it their own way, adding yet another version to these songs that have already had multiple lives.
Review by Louise Keller:
Inspired by love and driven by passion, Cole Porter wanted every kind of love available - and not necessarily from one sex. His private life was a bit like the two sides of a coin - flair and romance countered by pathos and confusion. His talent as a songwriter was extraordinary, as is the legacy of magical music he has left behind. Songs like Anything Goes, Let's Misbehave, Be a Clown, Love For Sale, In the Still of the Night, True Love and What a Swell Party This Is. As Irwin Winkler's sophisticated musical treatment of Porter's life plays out, we hear snatches of song after song after song, reminding us of his musical genius.
It's romantic, it's amusing, it's heartbreaking, it's divine, it's De-Lovely. But De-Lovely doesn't really feel like a bio-pic. It's really a love story. Cleverly structured so we dip in and out of different parts of Cole's life, as if his life is playing out like a theatre production, we watch events unfold through his eyes. Cole (Kevin Kline) is now elderly and wheel-chair ridden, as he views (with an unnamed companion played by Jonathan Pryce) the high and low lights of life from the moment he meets Linda in Paris in the 20s. He is singing at the piano when he sees her across a crowded, ornate room, wearing an elegant black dress, long black gloves and a spectacular pearl necklace. Their romance blossoms.
But Cole wants 'every kind of love available' - a want that is not restricted by convention or sex. He is drawn to men as naturally as he is drawn to 'an unmanned piano', a fact of which Linda is well aware. 'You know I have other interests,' he says. From the salons of Paris to Venice, New York and the lure of Hollywood, Cole's life is filled with joy de vivre and love. We slowly start to understand the love he has for Linda. Love is his inspiration, his fascination but what puzzles him most. 'I love you always sounded better with music underneath,' he muses, a fact that is best described in his song 'What is This Thing Called Love? Who can solve its mystery, why should it make a fool of me?'
Kevin Kline revels in the role of Cole; he is debonair, frivolous, outrageous and tortured all at once. Like Cole, we can't keep our eyes off Ashley Judd's Linda. Judd is alluring and vibrant, and looks dazzling in a never-ending wardrobe of designer gowns and jewels. The settings, the costumes, the make-up and of course the music. 'If I believed in God, he would be a song and dance man,' says Cole. The film's structure is perfectly conducive for introducing musical stars to present the songs - Elvis Costello, Alanna Morisette, Sheryl Crowe, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and Vivian Green whose rendition of Love For Sale, set in a gay bar/brothel is darkly memorable. As is Robbie Williams' version of the title song, extravagantly performed at the rose-strewn wedding reception.
The film may be a little long, but emotionally it soars. From joy to heartbreak, our hearts feel it all. Tears streamed down my cheeks as the full impact of the song 'Every time we say goodbye I die a little' sinks in. But a musical never ends on a ballad, in a clever conceptual twist (when the identity of Jonathan Pryce's character is revealed), before the final mood of romance is re-established.
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CAST: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Sandra Nelson, Allan Corduner, Peter Polycarpou, Keith Allen, James Wilby, Kevin McKidd
PRODUCER: Rob Cowan, Charles Winkler, Irwin Winkler
DIRECTOR: Irwin Winkler
SCRIPT: Jay Cocks
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tony Pierce-Roberts
EDITOR: Julie Monroe
MUSIC: Cole Porter (songs);
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eve Stewart
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 4, 2004