DE-LOVELY


             After the film version of the Broadway show CHICAGO won its Oscars
     and went on to become a box-office hit, there was hope that the movie
     musical would make a comeback. Part of the problem, though, is that
     feeling by the people in power that movie musicals have to be done in a
     post-modern manner. The idea of someone just bursting into song is
     ludicrous to the current audience. Never mind that younger viewers
     have been weaned on "
Sesame Street" and music videos. On the big screen,
     musical numbers have to somehow be organic. So the makers of
DE-LOVELY
       
have attempted to incorporate a good number of tunes from the Cole Porter
     catalog in their film in a manner that is more organic, but terribly stilted.

             
DE-LOVELY attempts to be a warts and all look at the life of
     composer Cole Porter, and its makers have said they were attempting a
     corrective to the glossy Hollywood version that was
NIGHT AND DAY (1946).
     Well, obviously back in the 1940s Porter's known homosexuality would
     not be addressed. But as it was later pointed out by Arthur Schwartz,
     "Apart from Cole's fabulous accomplishments, the only dramatic thing that
     ever happened to him was the horrible accident in which he was thrown from
     a horse." So Warner Bros. concocted a love story, utilized many of Porter's
     great songs and the released film was met with mixed to negative reviews.
     Even today, it is hardly a classic.         

             Unfortunately,
DE-LOVELY succumbs to many of the same errors.
     While Porter is presented as a homosexual (although one might get the
     impression he was more of a bisexual), the psychological underpinnings of
     his relationship with his wife Linda is sorely lacking. Then there are the
     factual errors, the awful choices in design, and the use of compositions out
     of sequence. A particularly egregious example of the latter is a performance
     of "True Love," composed in the mid-1950s for the film
HIGH SOCIETY,
     used in a scene set in the 1930s. There are so many things wrong with
     this film that I hardly know where to begin.

             
DE-LOVELTY's framing device has an elderly Porter (essayed
     throughout the film by Kevin Kline) being visited by Gabe (Jonathan Pryce),
     a sort of celestial emissary -- perhaps even the Angel Gabriel -- who escorts
     Porter on a sort of
"This Is Your Life" journey as played out in a theater.
     The opening number introduces the main characters, but most fail to really
     make an impression.The outline of the story follows Porter's life but it is
     generally difficult to understand the time period. Costume designer
     Janty Yates and production designer Eve Stewart make little effort to
     distinguish post-World War I Paris (where Porter met and married his future
     wife) from the 1930s and 1940s. There's a horrible sameness to the clothing
     and decor that is undermines the film. Now I understand that this is
     supposed to be a sort of fictionalized version, but still some effort
     should have been made to get at least some of the details right.
     (Particularly since so much of the film's publicity was built around the
     notion that this movie would be a corrective to the 1946 one and that it
     would tell the "real" story.)

             One of the things I found particularly strange was that there was
     no mention of Porter's beloved mother Kate, who was an integral part of
     his life. This is important, because Porter's marriage to divorcée Linda Lee
     Thomas was more a marriage of convenience than anything else. Linda was
     eight years Cole's senior and functioned as much as a surrogate mother
     as she did a muse. There's an attempt to address her understanding that
     she is marrying a homosexual and that it's okay with her, but Jay Cocks'
     script doesn't delve far enough into these matters. Instead,
DE-LOVELY
     is framed as a love story between Porter and his wife. While it is true
     that they loved one another, I'm not certain that it is correct to say that
     Linda was the main love of his life.      

             Irwin Winkler came to directing late, having established himself as
     a producer of note (i.e.,
ROCKY, THE RIGHT STUFF). His work behind the
     camera has been a mixed bag, yielding efforts like the entertaining albeit
     implausible
THE NET, the misfire AT FIRST SIGHT, and the well-acted, if
     flawed
LIFE AS A HOUSE. With DE-LOVELY, he's saddled with Cocks'
     cheesy script that is filled with horrible dialogue that is supposed to
     represent sophistication, wit and class, as well as a terrible structure of
     Porter looking back on his life. Winkler is also not terribly adept at staging
     musical numbers. One big showy piece, "Be a Clown," complete with Louis
     B. Mayer singing and dancing is destined to go down in the pantheon of
     camp.

             The use of contemporary singers yields mixed results. A few, like
     Diana Krall ("Just One of Those Things"), Robbie Williams ("De-Lovely"),
     Natalie Cole ("Every Time We Say Goodbye") and Elvis Costello ("Let's
     Misbehave") do well with the material, but others like Alanis Morissette
     ("Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love ") and especially Sheryl Crow ("Begin the
     Beguine") are out of their league.

             The few performers who have extensive stage experience like
     Caroline O'Connor impersonating Ethel Merman on "Anything Goes", Vivian
     Green ("Love for Sale") and John Barrowman ("Night and Day") excel. The
     latter, however, is another example of how the filmmakers played fast and
     loose with the truth. In the film, Barrowman's character, an actor named
     Jack (perhaps a nod to Porter's alleged relationship with Jack Cassidy),
     struggles with the song he is to introduce in
The Gay Divorce. There's even
     a line where Monty Woolley (badly impersonated by Alan Corduner) says
     "I told you that you should have given the song to Astaire." Well, in point
     of fact, it was Fred Astaire who sang the tune on Broadway, but in the film
     it's given to this fictional character so he can later surprise Porter and sleep
     with him. Those unfamiliar with history will now take what they see on screen
     as gospel and believe it.         

             One are where the filmmakers attempt to go for the truth is in having
     Kevin Kline sing badly. It's no secret that most Broadway composers are
     terrible singers -- listen to any backer's auditions that are often included
     in bonus tracks on original cast albums, if you don't believe me. Here's the
     one instance where they should have not pursued the "truth" quite so
     diligently. Kline is a terrific singer, so having him trill off-key distorts the
     songs and makes them hard to listen to. Perhaps not unsurprisingly
     (considering her family background) Ashley Judd does a creditable if
     unspectacular job in her musical numbers.

             I've been an admirer of Kevin Kline's since the late 1970s when I first
     saw him on stage in musicals like
The Robber Bridegroom and On the
     Twentieth Century
. In making the transition to features, he has proven
     to be reliable and often outshines lackluster material. But as in
IN & OUT,  
     I did not for one minute accept him as a gay man. (Perhaps his off-screen
     reputation for having been a ladies' man in his youth colors my perception.)
     As I see it, he seems unable to fully and convincingly portray a homosexual.
     He's more effective in the romantic scenes with Ashley Judd, but many of
     those stem from Jay Cocks' imagination. They might fit into Cocks' image
     of Porter (and perhaps that of the Porter estate) but they don't jibe with
     the biographical material that is out there.

             Quite simply, Ashley Judd is miscast as Linda Porter. First, she's too
     young for the role. Judd is more than twenty years younger than Kline
     whereas Linda Porter was her husband's senior. Linda also endured an
     abusive first marriage (demonstrated here by having her husband show up
     on her wedding day to Porter). In reality, Linda was a socialite with money
     of her own and she brought her connections to the marriage, while Porter
     introduced her to the world of show business. Theirs was a match that was
     as much one of convenience as it was of mutual respect and admiration.
     Judd fails to project the innate class and bearing of Linda Porter. She's
     like a child playing dress up. Only near the end of the film, when Linda is
     ill does she manage to make the audience care about her character, but by
     then it's a case of too little, too late.

             There are so many things that are wrong with
DE-LOVELY and so
     little that was right. I was very disappointed as I had hoped the film would
     bring new light to the composer and introduce a new audience to his music.
     At the public showing I attended at the Loews Lincoln Square Theater, I
     was shocked to discover that I was one of the youngest members of the
     audience. While it was terrific seeing so many older viewers attending the
     movies, many were disappointed by the final result, as was I. Perhaps it
     was best put by a friend of mine who saw a preview of the film. His
     comment was quite succinct: "It ain't
CHICAGO. It ain't even Des Moines!"
     It also ain't even
NIGHT AND DAY, and it sure ain't "de-lovely."


                            Rating:                      C -
                            MPAA Rating:             PG-13 for sexual content                         
                             Running time:            125 mins.
         


                                    Viewed at Loews Lincoln Square.




        
                                     
© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.