De-Lovely (2004) is one of the best and most underrated biopics I have ever seen. It has everything you’d want in such a film, awesome music, a fascinating, but very flawed central figure, which the filmmakers do not shy away from, a brilliant actor play that figure, and great supporting performances. Why people are not singing this film’s praises in the still of the night, night and day and where anything goes, completely beats me. But I am here to correct that shameless lack of such praise, so let’s do it and talk about the masterpiece that is De-Lovely.
Cole Porter is one of the most well known, influential and brilliant songwriters of this or any era. He wrote so many amazing songs that are firmly part of the American song book that appeared in fabulous broadway shows and have since appeared in countless films. Many of his songs, if not all, were used in MGM musicals at some point. These films include The Gay Divorcee, Broadway Melody of 1940, Silk Stockings and High Society.
What makes De-Lovely an extraordinary film is that it manages to balance both the drama of Porter’s life, the restrictions placed on him because of sexuality, his relationship with his wife, played to pure perfection by Ashley Judd, as well as his incredible songs. The film is presented as Porter looking back on his life, with the help of the archangel Gabriel, played by Jonathan Pryce. Gabriel is his guide because of the song Blow, Gabriel, Blow which was featured in the smash hit 1934 musical Anything Goes.
The film takes the audience through Porter’s rise to fame from being a successful songwriter on Broadway during the 1930s, his time in France where he met his wife, the beautiful divorcee, Linda, into his involvement with films, and then into his later life, where he was eventually left paralysed due his legs being terribly damaged in a horse riding accident.
Each part of the film is matched with a perfect song from Porter. His first meeting with Linda is paired with Robbie William’s singing It’s De-Lovely. The film heightens an already gorgeously filmed and acted scene, showing how Porter, despite his increasing penchant for homosexual relationships, falls completely in love with Linda. Throughout the film she is his supporter, his solace, the forgiver of his foibles. Eventually, however, Porter comes to realise that without Linda, his life means little, despite all of his success and sexual affairs. Linda eventually dies, and her loss is felt by both Porter and the audience through Natalie Cole’s rendition of Every time We Say Goodbye.
I think what really holds this film together, however, is Kevin Kline’s performances as Porter and Ashley Judd’s as Linda. Firstly they have incredible chemistry, through their acting they are able to show the complexities of a relationship between a man who seems to want too much from everyone and everything, and a woman who was his soulmate, but could not, eventually, forgive all of his excesses.
Kline’s performance is the perfect combination of near camp and real emotional rawness. He shows how Porter was like his songs: memorable and colourful, but despite his gift for writing numerous love songs, he realised too late that he should have cherished the love of his life. Kline’s portrayal is the emotional core of the film, he goes from being carefree to almost arrogant and cruelly insensitive in his success, to being desperate and disappointed in old age, but determined to prove that he is still the talented song writer of twenty years before, as shown in his triumphant production of Kiss Me Kate in 1948.
The film knows just how far to take its story, how to shift from the carefree excesses of the 1920s and 30s, to the war years, and the decline of his health in the 1950s and 60s. The film also acknowledges how Porter’s story was glossed over by the Hollywood film machine in the 1946 film, Night and Day, starring Cary Grant. An already partially crippled Porter even points out this hypocrisy in De-Lovely, as does Linda. Whereas Grant’s Porter joyfully reunites with his lady love, De-Lovely’s ending has a far more subtle, poignant ending.
A now old Cole is shown alone in the auditorium where his life played out before him. He approaches the piano with difficulty, as his one leg has been amputated below the knee. He then begins to play ‘In the Still of the Night’, and Linda, young and beautiful, appears behind him and sits beside him at the piano.
Now both Cole and Linda are young, shown in a quiet moment, near when they first met, still dressed in their evening clothes. Linda sings along, softly with Cole, all the while looking at his face. Then he looks at her, still singing and playing the piano. The light around them begins to fade, both of them still looking at each other, until it goes black. This is his Heaven, here, in the stillness, away from the frenetic pace of his life, with Linda.
This is my contribution for The Second Annual Broadway Bound Blogathon, being hosted by Taking Up Room. Please visit her blog for more information and to read everyone’s contributions.