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Review: Flawed 'De-Lovely' still wonderful

Cole Porter biopic benefits from music, performances

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Ashley Judd and Kevin Kline in "De-Lovely."
Ashley Judd
Cole Porter
Kevin Kline

(CNN) -- The new musical "De-Lovely," about the life of the legendary Cole Porter, is a mixed bag. The music, of course, is wonderful, the costumes are exquisite and both Kevin Kline, as Porter, and Ashley Judd, as his wife Linda, are terrific in their roles.

But the film's structure seems disjointed at times, and the audience never feels the actual danger that Porter was in at that time in history by being so blatant regarding his homosexuality, despite being married.

Spanning nearly 40 years, the story is told in flashback. We meet Porter as an old man, bitter and broken by life. Jonathan Pryce, playing Gabe, a theatrical producer staging a play about the composer, transports the dying man to an empty theater where together they watch his life -- and his music -- unfold.

All the key players in his life appear as well as numerous appearances by contemporary singers performing many of his most memorable songs. (Elvis Costello sings "Let's Misbehave," Alanis Morissette sings "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love" and Diana Krall takes on "I Get A Kick Out Of You," to name just a few.) In all, parts of nearly 30 tunes are scattered throughout the film.

Kline, no stranger to musicals, also performs, as does Judd, who sings "True Love." In fact Kline performed his songs live -- refusing to lip-sync -- and did not pre-record them, which is the way most musicals are done.

Porter, who was born wealthy, lived the life of a jet-setter before jets were invented. He traveled through various European capitals during the Jazz Age, and cavorted openly with many men. Then he met Linda Lee in Paris, and the two forged a deep relationship that apparently had nothing to do with any type of sexual involvement.

Together, the two traveled from Europe to America, from Broadway to Hollywood, in one seemingly endless party. Through it all Porter, who was unapologetically promiscuous, continued having sexual relationships with men, prompting Linda to flee back to Paris.

Then, in the late '30s, Porter had a tragic accident while horseback riding and Linda returned to his side. The songwriter was crippled for the next 27 years and endured excruciating pain, but still wrote some of the most memorable music of the 20th century.

"De-Lovely" is full of performance cameos, such as Elvis Costello doing "Let's Misbehave."

Director-producer Irwin Winkler won an Oscar for producing "Rocky" (1976); his other producing credits include "Raging Bull" (1980) and "Goodfellas" (1990). His directing efforts include "Life As A House" (2003), which also starred Kline. Obviously Winkler likes stories about people with strong relationship issues in their lives, and "De-Lovely" is no exception.

At its heart, this film is a love story, one made all the more potent by Porter's music. The Porters were anything but conventional, and their love for each other followed suit. But "De-Lovely" is also a story about the love of music and the magic of lyrics.

Still, "De-Lovely" has its flaws. That disjointed structure gives short shrift to some of the darker aspects of Porter's life -- his clever, upbeat music could stand in sharp contrast to the man writing it -- which prevents the movie from being as well-rounded as it could have been.

Nevertheless, this elegant production beautifully captures a time and place that no longer exists -- and perhaps never did -- except in song.

"De-Lovely" opened in limited release on Friday, July 2, and expands to more markets throughout July.

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