July 23, 2004


Directed by Irwin Winkler Starring Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd and Jonathan Pryce

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

As an influential musical figure of his day, Cole Porter certainly merits a bio-pic along with Wolfgang Mozart and Glenn Gould. Unfortunately, the resulting De-Lovely is not even remotely in the same league as Amadeus or Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould.

De-Lovely re-imagines Porter's relationship with socialite Linda Lee as a stage (and briefly, filmed) musical, with Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd in the respective roles. At the outset, the film promises an exploration of whether that relationship is based on love, money or convenience. But instead the misguided film indulges in largely trivial follies throughout, with director Irwin Winkler indiscriminately cramming in as many gratuitous musical numbers, name-dropping references and pop-star cameos as imaginable.

The film opens as angel Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) rehearses the musical in an empty theatre for the approval of a weathered Cole. As the camera pans, the stage transports its cast to the better days of Cole's life where everything is light and, well, gay. Cole excuses himself and explains that he "wanted every kind of love available" and "can't find it in one person or one sex," while Linda dutifully smiles in solidarity. It will eventually take several years of sleeping in separate bedrooms, many indiscreet extramarital affairs and numerous campy musical numbers before Linda finally confronts Cole with "I've indulged you. I've spoiled you. For what? For a little music!"

While Porter and Lee's relationship provides the framework, the film observes it from a strictly superficial level. The screenplay by Jay Cocks leaves much of the actual character development for Porter's own music and lyrics to convey. Unfortunately, most of these songs are rendered useless to the film as they frequently face interruption by insignificant dialogue. Cocks also seems hell-bent on throwing in an Irving Berlin here and a Louis B. Mayer there, even though these name-droppings do not even remotely advance the plot.

Winkler desperately stuffs the film with Porter's songs nearly from beginning to end, including subpar ones such as "Be a Clown" and "Another Opn'in, Another Show." Even though a star-studded vanity soundtrack with Porter's tunes is an understandable marketing gimmick, the cameo performances here serve no purpose but to completely cheapen the already superfluous film. There are a few truly bizarre-if somewhat cringe-inducing-sights, including an ear-licking Diana Krall and an overly earnest Elvis Costello channeling Al Jolson.

De-Lovely never manages to actually draw any conclusion on the nature and the significance of the relationship between Porter and Lee, except that she is his sometime muse. It seems that Winkler has love and affinity for Porter's music, but he merely delivers the pieces of the puzzle without actually assembling them into a meaningful picture.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.