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Culture Reviews
De-Lovely / By I. Winkler /
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Ryan Macalino
In storytelling, the concept of a tragic hero has always been one of the most interesting. These stories concern the very few who seem to be terribly gifted, and live life according to their own rules, with adherence only to their own desires. These few often suffer much, but only because it is through their own doing, always unyielding to the pressures of society or success.

The story of famed American composer Cole Porter, at least as how it is interpreted in this film, is such a story. His unique idea of love – or loves – plays the singular source of inspiration for his lifestyle and more importantly, his beautiful music. The film presents his story perfectly: in music, in acting, in direction, and in storytelling. In short, a very beautiful movie.

The story unfolds almost like a dream; opening to a dimly lit room with scarce lights used as focal points. We open to a scene with Cole (Kevin Kline) in his twilight years, the enduring and recurring image of him in front of his piano, with a cigarette and a glass of whiskey nearby. We soon learn from his friend Gabe (Jonathan Price) that a lavish production for a play is being rehearsed, the story of Cole’s life. Apparently, Gabe is the producer of this play, and with his godlike powers he grants Cole the gift of seeing his whole life unfold before his very eyes (and also question some of the decisions he made). Kudos to screenwriter Jay Cocks for using a Cole Porter composition to tie this story together – and perhaps this explains why Cole was so blessed; he had a guardian angel of such high standing.

The production begins in Paris of the 1920’s, the time where Cole first met his wife, Linda (Ashley Judd). Over time we witness Cole’s life unfold and how it and his work were inextricably connected to Linda, who accepted him for all of his strengths and faults. Indeed, as the story moves in setting through Venice to New York and then to Hollywood, with all the extramarital affairs with various male partners in Cole’s life, Linda remained steadfast.

The film is a musical, and much of the story is told through Cole’s magnificent music. Over time we realize how much his life affected his songs, and we slowly realize the ambiguity in many of his lyrics. Apart from the main actors, many of today’s celebrated musicians take turns in delivering Cole Porter’s creations, among them: Robbie Williams, Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, and Natalie Cole. I myself am not the biggest fan of musicals, but each of the guests present impressive interpretations that it was far too easy to be enthralled at each musical interlude.

The acting is just as excellent as the music, with stellar performances from the three main actors Kline, Price, and Judd. Kevin Kline is perfectly cast as Cole, infusing the lead with charm, sophistication, and talent. It’s refreshing to see that this actor actually has enough of a musical background to play piano and sing for most of the song breaks. Jonathan Price is also suitable as Gabe, a role that he has slipped into most comfortably. Perhaps the biggest surprise came in the form of Ashley Judd playing Cole’s loyal and forgiving wife Linda. The spin of the movie was to show that it was her that inspired most if not all of his music, and we come to believe through Judd’s delicate and nuanced performance. During the moments when husband and wife are together, we get the sense of Linda’s pain and suffering, even without words. Judd acts with emotion in her eyes and grace in her body language.

Finally, honourable mention goes to the screenwriter Jay Cocks’ storytelling, as well as director Irwin Winkler’s handling of such a wonderful story. Winkler and Kline had earlier teamed up for “Life as a House”, and the same emotion and heart is given to this film. This film however, is grander, where dark moments of the latter years are truly depressing, and bright moments of the earlier flashbacks are vibrant in their colour and romanticism.

To people who don’t usually like musicals or the ‘Hollywood treatment’, do not fret. “De-Lovely”, although it does drag at times, is a beautiful movie that does justice to such a controversial figure. Love was always what inspired Cole Porter to write his wonderful music, despite it coming in controversial forms. In usual stories where a tragic hero like Porter is the lead, this love would have been the source of his downfall. In “De-Lovely”, it is the source of his success.

21.12.04
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