Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
For all its frank exploration of Cole Porter’s bisexuality, Irwin Winkler’s biopic of the Jazz Age tunesmith is seriously lacking in gaiety. A clipped performance by Kevin Kline reveals little of the man whose cool eroticism and brazen double-entendres have kept his show tunes and standards anything but. De-Lovely is told through a familiar framing device: An aged Cole—Kline with bloated old-man cheeks, looking, in a moment of unearned poignancy, eerily like the Godfather—watches a stage musical of his unhappy marriage. Chaperoning Porter through the past like some perverted Marley is a stranger in the form of a sweaty, leering Jonathan Pryce. In one of the setup scenes, Kline says to Pryce, “Oh, this is one of those avant-garde things, isn’t it?” Well, no. It’s one of those decidedly middle-class things, where inane dialogue is interrupted by absurd musical extravaganzas strung together to tell a tale of mind-withering sentimentality. The story starts when an already famous Porter meets and seduces a glamorous divorcée, Linda, capably played by Ashley Judd. He warns her about his penchant for boys, but she is undeterred; “You just happen to like men more than I do,” she says. It’s the rare good line in a very bad script by Jay Cocks: “You have a dazzling life and a gift to go with it,” Linda tells Cole in a more typical exchange. “What have you got to be afraid of?” “Myself,” he replies, as if embarrassed to utter such psychobabble. The nattily dressed couple (Judd alone has 48 costume changes) move around a lot (Venice, New York, Los Angeles…), but scenery and wardrobe changes alone can help neither their marriage nor the tedious plot. By film’s end, Kline has managed to drain all the fun out of promiscuity, and Judd all the glamour from cigarettes. Sure, it’s swell seeing modern crooners such as Elvis Costello and Diana Krall performing Cole Porter’s greatest hits—Alanis Morissette, in a sailor suit, is the surprise showstopper—but all the sideshow misbehaving ain’t enough to heat up the bloodless couple in the center ring. They’re just too darn cold. —Gadi Dechter