December 10, 2012

Queer Review: De-Lovely (2004)

Director: Irwin Winkler
Writer: Jay Cocks
Cast: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Sandra Nelson, Allan Corduner, Peter Polycarpou, Keith Allen

De-Lovely represents yet another straightened out biopic of a gay icon to come out of the Hollywood machine. The life of Cole Porter (whose marriage was entirely a formal arrangement) is presented in such a dry and depressing fashion, that even the strong performances of Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd cannot overcome the films glaring weaknesses.

Music composer Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) is visited on his deathbed by Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) who shows Porter a staged performance of Porter's life, which highlights many moments in Porter's relationship with Linda Porter (Ashley Judd).

The Queering
This screen version of Cole Porter gets a few points for not completely straightening out it's main character. Too bad it stops short of being completely true with regards to Porter's sexual orientation and his relationship with his wife. The historical Cole Porter was gay, with his marriage believed to have been only a matter of convenience. Linda and Cole were on on different continents for a significant amount of time during the period that they were wedded. De-Lovely attempts to sell the audience that they were deeply, madly in love. It is possible in real life they were, but unfortunately it means that Porter's well known preference for men is relegated mostly to the background, with a chaste kiss here or a glance there.

There is also the issue of the filmmakers choosing to highlight Porters love songs, rather than the more satirical pieces that comprise the body of his work. Not as much of an issue (although it shows how much they wanted to emphasize the "love" Porter felt for his wife) at least until the end when the whole film takes on a dreary and depressing tone. Porter was a master of innuendo and satire but one would have a hard time figuring that out from this film. The songs are at least well done, with some talented performers (Elvis Costello, Alanis Morrisette, Robbie Williams, Natalie Cole) all doing their very best.

Unfortunately, all the things the film does right is not enough to prevent the plot from turning into a completely bore by the end. As I said, there are some nice performances from Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, plus a few of the musical numbers have some spark to them. But even a late and enthusiastic rendition of "Blow Gabriel Blow" was not enough to save the film from it's attempts to straighten out a brilliant gay icon.

As this is almost the least lovely movie that could be made about Cole Porter's life, I can only recommend it for those with a strong interest in a history of queer cinema.

The Rating
** out of ****


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