De-Lovely is a biopic of one of the greatest modern American composers, responsible not only for songs such as ‘Let’s Misbehave’, ‘De-Lovely’ and ‘Anything Goes’, but also for the entire musical ‘Kiss Me Kate’. The film focuses not only on the music and the creative process, it also spends a great deal of time on the friendship/romance between Porter and his wife and muse, Linda. Porter and Linda had an unusual relationship, their friendship and companionship extremely important to both, while he preferred sexual dalliances with men throughout his life and switched between hedonistic parties and more inward-looking moments of creativity. Linda had to be strong to handle the emotional roller-coaster of her husband’s partying, and yet she pushed his talents to the extreme and is responsible for many of his best songs according to everyone who seems to know these kinds of things.
Porter is played well by Kevin Kline, an actor with just the right kind of range between the serious and comedic which the role needs – his singing voice is also not too polished, but able to carry the tunes that appear throughout. Ashley Judd does a similarly good job with Linda, though as a quieter character all around, she doesn’t quite capture the imagination as well. The rest of the cast are also very talented, and they certainly did a great job of casting, which included a number of people with good experience in London’s West End or Broadway – including Jonathan Pryce, Peter Polycarpou and John Barrowman.There isn’t a performance in the film that I could fault, and that’s quite something. Still, perhaps the film’s most famous aspect is the gimmick that sees modern performers dotted throughout singing Cole Porter songs, including Robbie Williams, Natalie Cole, Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette. They all do a fantastic job with the songs and arrangements they’re given, and yet there’s something about this that slightly ruins those moments during the film, as your suspension of disbelief is interrupted while you pause to name the star and consider how well they’re doing.
Naturally, the structure of a biopic is always one of the more interesting aspects of such films – do the producers simply choose to tell a straight story of their subject from childhood to fame, or do they use some sort of meta-story to launch us into a series of flashbacks (as in Beyond the Sea, for a recent example). In De-Lovely the device employed is Gabe - in reference to the Archangel Gabriel - played by Jonathan Pryce, a director-like presence that leads an elderly Cole Porter through those 'life-flashing-before-your-eyes' moments before his death. The idea being that Porter’s life was so musical, his flashback could only take the form of a stage musical being performed before him. It has its cheesy moments and also those where it actually clicks. The make-up aging Kline is a little too intrusive to maintain the disbelief, but the concept comes into its own towards the end with a rip-roaring ending to the film that finally allows the very-talented Pryce to break into song.
Technically, the film does its job very well – the direction works, the actors and performers are really great, and the costumes/make-up and sets are perfect for the period and atmosphere they’re aiming to create for this tale. However despite this there’s something a bit dull about it all, whether in the extremely measured pacing or in the lack of emotional commitment to either Porter or Linda. Perhaps because their relationship was built so strongly on friendship its hard for the filmmaker to get into his head the fact that the pair were actually in love – throughout it almost seems more of a marriage of convenience that turned into an incredible friendship, rather than the deep love that is mentioned in commentaries and extras, particularly by representatives of the Cole Porter Trust (which was heavily consulted about the content of the film).
Though a little unsatisfactory at its emotional core, De-Lovely is still an interesting film about an intriguing man, and one which showcases his talent remarkably well. For anyone curious about his background, this makes good viewing, despite the few pacing problems and the length of the film, which makes it quite a commitment to watch. The songs are quite enjoyable and brighten it up, but expect a slightly sad storyline of an unconventional relationship that only seems to work from time to time.
The picture is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that has a good, solid quality to it. There is a little softness in some of the backgrounds, and the odd occurrence of grain, but some of that may have been down to directorial choice. Overall it’s a very colourful film, and the colours are rich and deep with natural skin tones and good black depths. There’s not a lot to worry about as far as picture quality is concerned, but it’s also not top-notch.
The sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 as can only be expected for a recent film, and especially one that revolves so much about sound, music and singing. There’s not a vast amount of directionality, but the full set of speakers do get a bit of a workout, especially during some of the big musical numbers. The music is treated especially well, and sounds beautiful throughout, never damaging dialogue in the process – so a successful sound rating as far as I’m concerned.
There’s a nice selection of extras included with De-Lovely, which was a welcome surprise for me. Most weighty of these are two audio commentaries... the first by Irwin Winkler and Kevin Kline, and the second also featuring Irwin Winkler, this time with Jay Cocks (writer). While it’s good to see two commentaries, I’d rather they’d had a little more variation and in particular I would have liked to have heard from more of the performers in the film. The commentaries include a lot of detail about the film’s production, both technical and anecdotal, but they never really held my attention too well... and the fact that the same anecdotes were repeated in both only served to annoy me a bit. Maybe if I hadn’t listened to the pair in one day I wouldn’t have noticed this to such a great extent. But neither is a particularly entertaining, despite their factual content.
There are two fairly long featurettes included, the first of which is the Making of De-Lovely, not the usual short 'promo' affair but an almost half-hour look at the making of the film, including the standard soundbites from cast and crew and of course a number of clips from the film. The second featurette at just under 14 minutes long is the Music of De-Lovely and is a glimpse of what a commentary could have achieved for this film. It features clips of various songs from the film and the respective musical performers talk a bit about what attracted them to the songs, while Stehen Endelman (Music Producer) talks about the arrangements and how they were employed to emotionally underscore aspects of Porter’s life as each song is being performed.
Two of the numbers are also covered in separate small featurettes. Anatomy of a Scene: Be a Clown looks at the big dance number that accompanies this song, including rehearsal footage of Kevin Kline and dancers learning the steps. It includes comments from Kevin Kline, Peter Polycarpou, Irwin Winkler and Francesca Jaynes (Choreographer). The second (Anatomy of a Scene: Love for Sale) is a slightly shorter affair at only just under 3 minutes long and examines the scene accompanying the song, which focuses on showing a number of Porter’s dalliances with men. Winkler decided to do the scene as one continuous steadycam shot, and it's this technicality that’s discussed in this short feature which includes comments from cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts.
The deleted scenes extra includes 9 clips that didn’t make the final cut, including an alternate ending which is quite bleak and yet which I enjoyed greatly. They’re actually better quality than a lot of DVD deleted scenes and I’m glad they were included. Finally, the extras are rounded out by a TV spot advertising the soundtrack and the film’s trailer.
De-Lovely is a worthy attempt at a biopic of the larger than life Cole Porter, and many of those interested in his life will come away with a better awareness of the man behind the music. However, it lacks the sparkle that lights up so many of his songs. It features good performances though from all the stars and the musical performers recruited to give the show an injection of modernity. And for anyone watching it, this DVD release boasts an impressive array of extras that most certainly round out the whole package and make it better value for money.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:54:24