Directed By: Irwin Winkler
Written By: Jay Cocks
Kevin Kline – Cole Porter
Ashley Judd – Linda Lee Thomas/Porter
Jonathan Pryce – Angel Gabriel
Kevin McNally – Gerald Murphy
Sandra Nelson – Sara Murphy
Allan Corduner – Monty Woolley
Peter Jessop – Diaghilev
Peter Polycarpou – Louis B. Mayer
Keith Allen – Irving Berlin
Language: English Genre: Musical Biopic
The scene opens and it looks suspiciously like a stage production, the lights slowly coming on, one after the other, to reveal an old man seated near a piano. Another person, dressed in a suit calls him out and he wheels himself out. The man now seated near the piano ready to play the music is Cole Porter and we realise that the old man in the wheelchair was Cole Porter as well.
De-Lovely is a musical biography on Cole Porter that portrays his life, marriage, other relationships both professional and personal, and his career alongside his music. We see Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) meeting Linda Lee (Ashley Judd) and deciding to marry. There’s was an advantageous marriage because Linda, much like a manager does everything to promote his career. She believes implicitly in his music and his music’s ability to move people. She also uses the trajectory of his career to take him away from relationships she does not approve.
It is a strange portrait of a marriage, the usual ups and downs but also their rather particularly different dynamics, with his interest in men and her tacit acknowledgment of it. She wants him to be discreet but he is too flamboyant in his affections. Yet he cares deeply for her and she is in many ways central to his music.
The film is like a meta-narrative with the older Cole Porter feeling the need to portray things differently or finding the act of watching his life played out before him too disturbing. The director – Angel Gabriel (Jonathan Pryce) however, categorically tells him that he cannot interfere because his story will be reinterpreted based on what others feel. Also, once a story is in the public domain (and sometimes even when it’s not) one can take artistic liberties with a narrative. This is true of the film and every biopic.
However, while making the biography a review by the older self of the real-life persona is a refreshing take, it makes it hard for the viewer to relate to the characters on the screen because of the alienating effect of seeing the older Cole Porter questioning his life. It is nevertheless, more realistic in its portrayal than his contemporaries who romanticised his story. In fact, there is a scene in the film wherein Cole and Linda watch a private screening of Night and Day and wryly comment on how sugary a portrayal it is and yet how it is flattering to have yourself immortalised as Cary Grant.
One must also remember Brecht who spoke about how the alienation effect in theatre was necessary to keep the audience from being sucked into the story. Instead, they should reason and question what they are seeing. So also here, while watching De-Lovely one can’t help but ponder over their relationship and wonder why Cole and Linda chose to be with each other. It is thus a unique portrayal of a person’s life through their own eyes and their music.
De-Lovely has Cole Porter’s music performed by contemporary singers who play the role of club singers and actors in his productions, it shows how contemporary and popular his music still is.
A special mention: the make-up. It is very realistically done and shows the aging of the characters really well.