Starring Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd and Jonathan Pryce. Directed by Erwin Winkler.
Running Time: 125 minutes.
Rated: Rated MA 15+.
I have to confess that one of my favourite albums is of Kiri Te Kanawa singing Cole Porter songs. So I went to De-Lovely expecting to enjoy it and hoping this would be the type of family film I could easily promote. I also went knowing nothing about Cole Porter's life.

Well, De-Lovely is very stylish, the many songs are great, the acting is accomplished, but Mr Porter was a very complicated man. Be warned.

De-Lovely opens in 1964 as Cole Porter dies in his apartment in New York City. He is visited by Gabe (Pryce). He's an angel. Together, they review Porter's life, or at least part of it.

We return to Paris in 1919 when Porter (Kline), an independently wealthy songwriter, meets his soon-to-be wife Linda (Judd). She is more ambitious for him than he is for himself. Through her friendship with Irving Berlin (Keith Allen) Porter's career takes off. The rest of the film is a fairly straightforward telling of the highs and many lows in Porter's professional and personal life.

The film particularly focuses on the fact that despite being married for 35 years, Porter was an active homosexual. "I look for love where ever I can find it." Originally, Linda thought she could cope with Porter's sexual orientation. The reality proved much more difficult for both of them. A marriage that starts out with such compromises rarely improves.

This film portrays Porter as a narcissistic man - his needs almost always dominated his world. He mistook sex for love. The great flaw in the screenplay is that we need more background to Porter's life so that his personal and sexual self-centredness might be read in context.

Despite his narcissism and adultery Cole Porter was prodigiously talented, and his work continues to entertain people throughout the world, and Kevin Kline brings this excessive character to life on the screen with grace and sympathy.

De-Lovely is complex in structure, it's a play within a film, which takes a while to get used to, but it is a perfect vehicle for a man who always craved the limelight. Jay Cocks' screenplay even comments on the structure of the film, ("They won't like it." We do.), and the large number of songs ("Too many." Probably.).

The musical numbers are superbly staged with Natalie Cole, Robbie Williams, and Australia's own Caroline O'Connor making guest appearances.

Eve Stewart's production design, Jan Yates' costumes, Julie Monroe's editing and Tony Pierce-Roberts' cinematography will garner them all, I'm sure, Oscar nominations next year. Director Erwin Winkler takes a standard biopic narrative and gives it texture and surprising warmth.

After seeing De-Lovely I couldn't wait to get home to listen to "Kerri Sings Porter.'
Now, at least, I know enough about Porter to wonder how someone whose life was so sad could pen such happy tunes. He's a real-life Pagliacci.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic film office.

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