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De-Lovely /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Keith Allen, Angie Hill

Directed by: Irwin Winkler

Produced by: Rob Cowan, Charles Winkler, Irwin Winkler
Written by:
Jay Cocks
Distributor: MGM

 

Ashley Judd and Kevin Kline as Linda and Cole Porter in MGM's De-Lovely
Sheryl Crow sings
Kevin Kline as Cole Porter in MGM's De-Lovely

     Ah, the first musical biopic of the summer has arrived. Itís time to pay tribute to one of songwritingís greats. And passionately, or at least one would hope. In fact, the director of De-Lovely, Irwin Winkler, has, perhaps, too much of a good thing, resting in his hands. Performing the songs of legend Cole Porter are Alanis Morissette, Robbie Williams, Natalie Cole, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello. The film certainly has a star-studded soundtrack. The music is heavenly; unfortunately, it becomes boring, in context. Real fast, too. Itís got no solid structure supporting it, no feet to stand on. De-Lovelyís promising concept could not have been handled in a more mediocre way 

     Everyone involved in the project, except Winkler and screenwriter Jay Cocks, clearly tries their best to disguise De-Lovely as passable entertainment, in fact. I felt bad for Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, who are so wonderful here, you can feel their presences. Good acting can rarely make up for lack of substance, though, and on that level, De-Lovely is as shallow as Paris Hilton carrying a Prota-bag. The usually masterful Cocksí (Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence), in particular, should be ashamed of himself. Covering up the fact that there is no emotional richness in his script with zingy one-liners may appear to be just jolly to the average viewer, but I was sickened by the technique.

     Of course, De-Lovely cannot go without exposing Cole Porterís bisexuality. Ironically, though, this makes for several of the filmís high-points. Kline and Judd play the Porter couple and their sense of intimacy, during discussions of Coleís urges towards men, in the key quiet moments, is dazzling. Together, they capture fear, but also a kind of euphoric excitement, in their relationship. Itís hard to pinpoint puts on the best show in De-Lovely; the obvious choice would be Kline, because the film focuses on his character. I think I prefer Judd, though. She is groundbreaking in her depiction of both numbing vulnerability and hidden, ferocious ambition. Judd is definitely responsible for one of the best performances of the year, so far. Talk about attempting to carry a movieís weight on your shoulders.

     Still, even being able to realize the vastly human sides of Cole and his wife, Linda, I felt empty, watching De-Lovely. Every scene feels stunningly superficial in almost every aspect, aside from acting. Iím convinced that the movieís odd concept of storytelling is responsible for this. All of the sketches featuring the famous Porter, are presented as if they are a part of a movie/play (to be honest, I couldnít figure out what the hell it was) that an old version of the songwriter is watching. For me, this made the experience devoid of all potential emotion. I remembered that the material I was viewing was a mere rendition of Porterís life, and hence, could not become engaged in it. And without capturing an audience member, a filmís chances at poignancy plummet.

     De-Lovely is a plainly average motion picture, and perhaps thatís why itís so unbearable. Maybe Iíve been too harsh on it, in this review, but does that make my gripes any less artistically justifiable? At the end of the day, I cannot find many differences between De-Lovely and a brain-dead, big-budget, summer blockbuster. They may fall into different categories, as films, but share the same obsession with stylizing intelligence, and fail as a result. This movie may be interesting enough to suffice for a worthwhile cable-viewing, sometime in the future, but it rarely had me hooked. That simple fact, in itself, accounts for one hell of a problem.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (8.20.2004)


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