Movie review: De-Lovely (2004)

Cole Porter. His was a name I knew when I stumbled into the Cole Porter room at the Indiana Historical Society a few years ago. I wandered around the room, looking at the photos and listening to a performer sing his songs.

That was the extent of my Cole Porter knowledge, which I felt was extremely lacking. I had this image of Porter as one of those early twentieth century artists who spent time in Europe living the high life. (He was.)

De-Lovely helped round out and deepen my understanding of who Cole Porter was. The movie covers Cole Porter’s life with his wife Linda. The vehicle that it uses to highlight the man, his songs, and his relationships is a bit unusual. (It threw me a little bit at first.)

Cole is essentially watching his life—at least the section of his life lived with Linda—play out on stage before him. (Kind of like seeing your life flash before your eyes. I guess in the case of someone who wrote songs for musicals, you see your life flashed on stage.) All of the scenes that played out and the people in them were presumably important in his life.

The movie is song after song after song, whether in a musical or Cole singing at a social event or composing the music. In between are important moments in his life surrounding his wife Linda. The two had an unconventional marriage, clearly devoted to each other. Linda seemed to be a muse of sorts. She believed in his talents, encouraged him, and fought for his career—introducing him to Irving Berlin and battling doctors who wanted to amputate his legs after a horse riding accident. Cole was devoted to Linda but with an explicit pre-marriage understanding, continued to have relationships with men.

De-Lovely reveals the joys but also the sense of tragedy that touched Cole and Linda Porter. Life was full of happiness and music, curtailed a bit by the 1937 tragedy that took the use of his legs. But it all seemed to come crashing down after Linda died (1954) and he lost one of his legs (1958). Then music stopped—six years before his death. That must have been an excruciating six years for him.

Kevin Kline does a delightful job as Cole, engaging in boyish banter, playing the piano, and singing Cole’s songs. (Incidentally, Kline studied theater at Indiana University—a Hoosier-educated actor playing a Hoosier artist.) Ashley Judd plays his ravishing wife, Linda. The two of them have an easy rapport on screen.

De-Lovely uses stage and song as an unusual vehicle to show Cole’s life with Linda. In the process you are exposed to his songs of early twentieth century musicals.

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