De-Lovely is Di-Sapointing.
On the asset side, we have the glorious songs of Cole Porter, the most urbane and elegant composer-lyricist of the 20th century. He’s the top.
And we have suitably elegant and urbane production design, with sets and costumes that help to tell the story.
Unfortunately, we also have a script that keeps getting in the way of the story. Yes, I know that the previous attempt to film Porter’s life was 1946’s highly fictionalized Night and Day, with Cary Grant (Porter’s own choice) playing the lead. But the fact that the first movie left out Porter’s homosexuality is not a reason to make it the main theme of this version. The over-emphasis of Porter’s sexual orientation in this film goes past disproportionality into the category of weirdly obsessive. All right, he was gay. But what about all the other things we’d like to know?
Perhaps the worst of the many wrong-headed choices in this film, however, is the deadly decision to begin with Porter as an old man, talking to someone (The angel of death? A sepulchral sort of psychoanalyst?) as he sees his life play out before him on a stage (get it?) and, for the Hollywood years, on a screen (now do you get it?). This may have looked creative and meaningful on paper. It does not work in the movie.
The music is, well, de-lovely. But the numbers are not well handled. Perhaps in an attempt to follow in the tradition of Oscar-winning hit Chicago, the songs are pointedly, even ham-handedly intended to comment on the events of Porter’s life, which is not only innaccurate in showing which songs were written when but also diminishes the songs’ ability to tell their own story. Too many of the songs are given to Kline, a gifted musician and singer who went for authenticity (Porter was not a good singer) instead of musicality. For the rest of the songs, there is some stunt casting of pop stars, and most of them do very well. Alanis Morrisette’s Olive Oyl get-up and reedy, Bjork-ish rendition of “Let’s Do It” does not work as well as the smooth and smoky “Begin the Beguine” by Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall’s silky “Just One of Those Things,” and the mischevious “Let’s Misbehave” by Elvis Costello. But even the best of these renditions, the highlight of the movie, are spoiled with too many cuts. Just buy the soundtrack CD instead.
At one point, Porter and his wife view a screening of the Cary Grant biopic, in a scene that is intended to draw a sharp contrast between the Hollywood-ized (meaning heterosexual-ized) superficial story-telling of the first and the more in-depth and revealing aspects of the second. Unfortunately, it just draws a sharp contrast between the elegant sophistication of Cary Grant and the torpid ham-handedness of “De-Lovely,” utterly unsuited to its subject with its mis-match of form and content.
Parents should know that the movie has explicit sexual references for a PG-13. A theme of the movie is Porter’s life as a semi-closeted gay man and the stress this put on his relationship with his wife. There is also a reference to a miscarriage (including some blood), the (offscreen) death of a child, and severe injury resulting from a horseback-riding accident. Characters drink and smoke a great deal (one dies of emphysema).
Families who see this movie should talk about what drew Cole and Linda to each other. What did each of them want from the relationship? What did each of them get? Families should be sure to discuss Cole’s bitterness at the end of his life. Would he have been so bitter if he had spent more of his time differently? What do people have to do to maintain a sense of satisfaction and the ability to continue to develop relationships with others at the end of their lives?
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy seeing some of Porter’s musicals including Kiss Me Kate, Silk Stockings, Can-Can, and High Society. They will also enjoy the previous biopic, briefly glimpsed in this film, starring Cary Grant and Alexis Smith as the Porters, and featuring Monty Wooley and Mary Martin as themselves. It may not strive for accuracy, but it is fun to watch, especially Martin performing her signature song, Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” You can also see Marilyn Monroe’s unforgettably sultry version of the song in Let’s Make Love.