Produced and Directed by Irwin Winkler
Written by Jay Cocks
DE-LOVELY is a good example of the way musicals are made nowadays. Audiences have to have a ‘reason’ for why the people in the movie suddenly break out in song and dance. I myself have spoken with many people who hate musicals because as they put it: “Why are the people singing? Where’s the music coming from?” Well, where does the music come from in a comedy or an action movie? It’s not real, people. None of it. It’s the movies. Musicals is a genre where you take it on faith that they’re set in an alternate universe where people express their feelings by singing and dancing to music that comes out of thin air.
In DE-LOVELY, the conceit is that a man named Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) who may be a guardian angel is taking the old, crippled Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) on a trip back through his life before he dies. Naturally, Cole’s life is shown to him and us as a stage musical. Gabe occasionally goes up on stage to give direction to the various characters in Cole’s life, including his wife Linda (Ashley Judd)
The story here in DE-LOVELY is quite simple. The movie mainly concerns itself with Cole Porter’s amazing music and his complicated relationship with Linda. Cole Porter is bi-sexual. Linda had an abusive first marriage that left her uninterested in sex. She’s content to be the wife of the world famous songwriter and composer. And it doesn’t hurt Cole’s career that she’s wealthy and socially connected. As well as willing to ignore Cole’s relationships with other men and women.
The movie depicts the emotional love between him and Linda as real and genuine but physical love between them isn’t all that important. They sleep in separate bedrooms, only occasionally coming together such as when Cole gets a sudden urge to be a father. Linda seems to be satisfied with being Cole’s muse and helping direct his career. It’s Linda who persuades Irving Berlin to come to Venice to offer Cole a job. The Porters then move to New York where Cole Porter’s Broadway shows are huge smash hits. It’s Linda who talks Cole into moving to Hollywood where he goes to work for MGM and Louis B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou) But the move to Hollywood backfires on Linda when Cole gets pulled deeper into the gay subculture and they end up being blackmailed.
DE-LOVELY quickly settles into a routine: there’s a musical number. Then we get a scene where Cole and Linda discuss his affairs with women. Then we get another musical number. Then we get another scene where Cole and Linda discuss his affairs with men. And then we get a musical number. Then we get another…oh, never mind. I think you get the point by now.
If there’s any reason for you to see the movie it has to be the musical numbers. Cole Porter wrote some of the greatest songs ever. “Anything Goes” is one my Ten All Time Favorite Songs and the gimmick in this movie that many contemporary artists appear in the movie in some really terrific numbers singing his songs. Robbie Williams tears up “It’s De-Lovely” which is sung at the wedding of Cole and Linda. Elvis Costello performs “Let’s Misbehave” and I really loved the hell out of Alanis Morrisette’s version of “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love”
“Torchwood” fans will get a real charge out of John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) singing “Night And Day” and while I appreciated Caroline O’Conner’s version of “Anything Goes” where she appears to be channeling Ethel Merman it doesn’t match up to the lavish Kate Capshaw version in “Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom” There’s also Sheryl Crow doing a really magical version of “Begin The Beguine”, Vivian Green tearing the raw emotion out of “Love For Sale” and many other wonderful performers including Natalie Cole.
I’ve never been impressed with Ashley Judd as an actress. Remember back in the 90’s when she was doing suspense thrillers and it seemed like she was remaking the same movie every year? But here she’s not bad. She’s a contemporary actresses who looks like she could have been a 30’s/40’s actress and she wear the clothes of the period well. She inhabits the world of the 30’s/40’s as though born to it. It’s not an Academy Award performance at all but it is an interesting one. She goes through some remarkable character development during the film and I appreciated what she was doing while she was doing it.
Kevin Kline is…well, he’s Kevin Kline. The guy looks like he was born in a tuxedo and I’m convinced he had to have lived a previous life in the 1930’s. He just looks so comfortable and classy inhabiting that world. It’s an effortless performance that brought a smile to my face. But Kevin Kline has that effect on me. He’s just such a good actor I’d watch him in anything. I’ve seen him in better movies than this but it’s hard for me to say anything bad about an actor who obviously has so much fun doing what he’s good at. His huge “Be A Clown” number is in the best tradition of classic movie musical numbers. And what is really interesting is this: Even though he’s an excellent singer, Mr. Kline deliberately does not sing as well as he normally does since the real Cole Porter wasn’t that good of a singer.
So should you see DE-LOVELY? It’s not a movie I say you absolutely have to see. But it’s very interesting in that it’s less of an examination of the life of Cole Porter and more the story of a woman married to a man who prefers anonymous sex with strangers than with her. But if you’re a fan of Kevin Kline or Cole Porter music it’s most definitely worth a viewing. And as a further temptation there are those really great musical numbers. It’s an okay movie if you’re in the mood for a musical. Enjoy.