• U.S.

Movies: It’s De-Pressing!

2 minute read
Richard Schickel

De-lovely. Such an insouciant and enticing neologism, so perfectly emblematic of Cole Porter, the man who coined it. You enter a movie with that title, prepared to be enchanted. You straggle out a couple of hours later, lost in a fog of gloom. For this film’s makers grimly insist that the songwriter’s life was essentially a betrayal of his impeccably sophisticated art when they might have more profitably seen his work as a gallant triumph over the difficulties of a messy life.

De-Lovely proceeds from a miscalculated device. A nameless shade (Jonathan Pryce) arrives to conduct the aged, crippled Porter (Kevin Kline) out of this world into the next. Before they depart, they naturally pause to contemplate Porter’s 73 years of existence. His homosexuality is not elided. His tense and enigmatic marriage to Linda Lee Thomas (Ashley Judd) is inconclusively examined. So is the riding accident that crushed both his legs and put him in constant, searing pain and (this is not mentioned) led to drug addiction for the last quarter-century of his life.

This is serious material, and you cannot blame serious filmmakers–the movie was written by Jay Cocks (formerly a TIME critic) and directed by Irwin Winkler, producer of some of the best movies (Raging Bull, The Right Stuff) of recent times–for being seduced by it. But something goes terribly wrong in the execution. Kline suggests Porter’s intractable snootiness but none of his perpetually boyish elan. Judd mostly simpers. The Porters had, it seems, a marriage of inconvenience, leavened in the movie by glam settings, the irrelevant appearances of famous people and, of course, the tunes Porter is occasionally seen dashing off.

The immortal love songs and list songs are rendered by such pop stars as Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow and Robbie Williams. They are supposed to bring in the younger crowd, for whom Porter is either antiquated or anonymous. But there’s little they can do to lift the pall of joylessness that hangs over this film.

Yet joy–cheekily comic, indefatigably romantic–is what Cole Porter was all about, whatever tests and traumas he endured. We need to see that unlikely triumph, maybe especially at this moment. Watching him stumble glumly to his grave is not an entertaining–or useful–alternative. –By Richard Schickel

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