Theatrical, clichéd and not a little camp, Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely is a perplexing affair. On the one hand, writer Jay Cocks offers a revisionist take on the legendary composer that, unlike 1946's fictionalised pic Night And Day, acknowledges his closet homosexuality. Yet it does so with such prim reserve it feels just as false and airbrushed as its Cary Grant predecessor. Thankfully there are enough glorious songs, energetically warbled by a host of modern pop stars, to keep us enthralled.
The film begins with an ageing Cole (Kevin Kline, in hilariously unconvincing makeup) summoned from his deathbed to watch a musical revue based on his life. With the geriatric Porter looking on, we see a series of episodes played out, each accompanied by one or more of his timeless numbers.
"THE SONGS RADIATE WIT, STYLE AND ELEGANCE"
At the heart of the tale is Cole's close relationship with Linda (Ashley Judd), his muse, confidante, and eventual wife. Agreeing to a sexless marriage of convenience provided he keeps his gay dalliances discreet, she inspires him to write some of his greatest hits. Gradually, though, their union fractures as they face blackmail, illness, and mishap.
Sticking religiously to Hollywood formula, director Irwin Winkler delivers a polished but ultimately skin-deep portrait of often comical corniness. Kline makes a decent fist of Porter's unabashed self-absorption, but never hints at the demons and desires that fuelled Cole's airy compositions. Judd, meanwhile, phones in a performance so bland she's frequently out-acted by her frocks.
De-Lovely is at its De-Loveliest when it drops all biographical pretence and lets the music take over. There are 28 songs in all, and every one of them radiates wit, style, and elegance. Indeed, it's a mark of their excellence that even Robbie Williams and Alanis Morissette can't screw them up.