This one will be pretty brief as it’s….an odd picture.
As always, the back story: I was having dinner with my cousin a few weeks ago and mentioned I was reading a dual biography on both Cole Porter and Noel Coward (for those not in the know, songwriting greats of both America and the U.K., the former of which wrote at least half of the “Great American Songbook.” Even if you don’t think you’ve heard his songs, you have). She mentioned wanting to see a movie that came out about Porter in the last decade, and I knew instantly to what she referred: De-Lovely.
This was one of those odd cases where I had the soundtrack long before the film, and I had only two opinions about it. One was that Alanis Morissette (spelling?) does my absolute favorite version of “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” and that Sheryl Crow is going to Music Hell for what she did to “Begin the Beguine.” I’d heard things ABOUT the movie, but never seen it. So tonight she brought her rented copy over, and we all sat down to it for the first time.
The set-up is intriguing, and it sets up the rest of the film well. The dying Porter (Kevin Kline) is approached by the angel Gabriel (Jonathan Pryce), sans any sort of angelic pomp, to watch his life history as a stage show. One thing I did know was that I thought Kline looked a lot more like Coward than like Porter, but that’s because Cole Porter had the weirdest head.
Two other first impressions: I liked the surrealism of Porter seeing his life and being unable to comment upon or change it, to linger on one even and pass up another. Er, maybe like is too strong a word. It was interesting. It worked. It was….uh…..well, it was artistic. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, because I did, I think. But….this is one of those movies, in case you can’t tell. It’s really artistic but….it’s not something you’re going to pop in when you’re in the mood for cohesion.
The second impression was something that bugs me with a lot of stories; it begins with him meeting divorcee Linda Lee in Paris. Which is fine, because the story was about them as a couple, but it always bothers me when people do this. For example, I’ll admit that my favorite part of anything having to do with Cleopatra is her relationship with Caesar, but I always drop books that gloss completely over the first 21 years of her life to jump into the juicy bits. Your life without your partner is important, too, it shapes you. But whatever, it was a two-hour movie.
For those who are going to want a timeline to be stuck to, turn back now, because the movie is populated entirely by Porter’s songs (duh), but not in the order they are written. The first big number is “Well, Did You Evah,” sung during his stay in Paris in the late 20s-early 30s – – – except it was written for “High Society” which didn’t appear until the mid-40s. Prepare to be shocked, because this didn’t bother me. I mean, I guess it would it people thought that that’s actually how his songs came about, but I guess then I’d just be watching the film with a total moron who thinks cocktail parties burst into perfectly rhyming song, so I’d have bigger things on my mind.
Anyway, my biggest worry was that this was going to be like “Night and Day” all over again and that Cole Porter somehow became straight. This didn’t happen, to my relief. His homosexuality was VERY tastefully shown (I mean very elegantly and tastefully), and good for Kevin Kline for doing what many actors would balk at! Up to and including a chaste kiss on the lips, oh my! Then I was worried that they were going to continue the rumor that Linda Porter was a lesbian, but that didn’t happen, so don’t worry.
You may also be surprised that I’m not going to complain about historical inaccuracies. I mean, I was totally all ready to whip out my burden of knowledge – but I was actually pretty impressed. Obviously some bits are condensed, but there was a level of detail that, provided you knew it was there, was impressive.
That being said, there are at least two things that I went “…..yeaaaah, riiiight.” The first was his affair with John Barrowman, playing his leading man in “Paris.” That sure didn’t happen in my book. Um, I guess you should insert stereotypical joke about John Barrowman here? Or just listen to him sing “Night and Day,” which is among the best I’ve heard.
The second was the supposed “pregnancy and miscarriage” incident. For one thing, I thought they overplayed the Porter’s sexual relationship entirely, as Cole was, you know, gay, and Linda was not so hot for anything after her physical and sexual abuse by her first husband (something briefly hinted at in the beginning of the film). Soooo….babies? I mean, I was willing to believe it. But a miscarriage is kind of a big deal. It didn’t even get a footnote in my biography, and not even wikipedia had it. Sooo….I’m going to call bullshit on that. Which I guess is too bad, as it’s a poignant moment in the film. Or it would be if it weren’t for Sheryl f–king Crow BUTCHERING “Begin the Beguine.”
I guess that brings up a third point. I like how they got contemporary singers to interweave Porter’s songs throughout the film in a way that moved along with the plot – but for every hit you had like with Morissette or Natalie King Cole, you had….WAY to modern and just down right wrong takes on his songs.
LIKE SHERYL CROW. I’m not going to give this up, people! The woman deserves a slow roast for what she did to music!
Anyway, I guess my last “complaint” is that apparently WWII wasn’t important enough to mention, but if you take a look at my list of complaints….it actually speaks well to the film. I hesitate to recommend it, not because it’s bad, because it IS good. But it’s so…um…it’s….well….
I liked it. I’m pretty sure. And I bet there are a lot of people out there who would. But if you weren’t into Cole Porter before, I HIGHLY doubt you will be now, or that you’ll have the patience to put up with the meanderings of the film. Or if you’re a little knowledge sponge, good for you! You’ll at least have your appetite whetted. So….see it if art films are REALLY your thing. Or Kevin Kline is. Or….something. Otherwise, just go by my points system.
Overall filming quality: 10. It was a very impressive film, and because it was so artistic, every shot is fraught with meaning.
Story: 7 (which is passing)
Overall score: 8.66
B+. Which is pretty good. Yeah, I guess that’s about what I’d call this movie.