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De-Lovely Reviews

Irwin Winkler's musical vision of composer Cole Porter's life and loves, from a script by Jay Cocks, is very clear about what it isn't. It's not a whitewashed biopic like NIGHT AND DAY (1946), which so twisted the facts that audiences left theaters believing Porter was a rugged straight arrow married to the selfless nurse who treated his war wounds, rather than a cosseted, bisexual rich kid who met his wealthy socialite bride at a swanky Paris soiree. Winkler and Cocks go so far as to have their Porter (Kevin Kline) declare, "If I can survive this movie, I can survive anything," but having dismissed NIGHT AND DAY's decorous evasions, the filmmakers re-imagine Porter's story as a grand romance in which his love of men was a peccadillo, eclipsed by true love for his wife, Linda (Ashley Judd). The film opens as a director (Jonathan Pryce) escorts the aged and ailing composer to a theatrical run-through of the musical of his life, beginning in Paris in 1918. There the 27-year-old dilettante meets Linda, recently divorced, eight years his senior and admired equally for her beauty and lavish parties. She's heard all about Porter's liaisons with other men, but is too sophisticated to lose a soul mate over such a minor, vulgar complication. With their swellegant best friends, moneyed jazz-age bohemians Sara and Gerald Murphy (Sandra Nelson, Kevin McNally), they become glittering twin stars in the firmament of the expatriate social scene, conquering Broadway, Hollywood and tempestuous emotional squalls. The glamorous journey takes Porter and Linda through a series of guest performances by pop singers ranging from Alanis Morissette, whose version of "Let's Fall in Love" is startlingly good, to Sheryl Crow, whose languorous "Begin the Beguine" is simply painful. That Kline, 56, is too old to play Porter during most of the story's timeframe is a minor problem. To have Kline sing badly because Porter's vocalizing was famously unpolished (though not without charms, as his rendition of "You're the Top," played during the end credits, vividly demonstrates) is far more troublesome. A Porter biography that makes Porter's songs sound flat and undistinguished is on the wrong track. Worst and most distracting is that Cocks and Winkler structure the story as a clunky amalgam of backstage (Porter and his friends were the-a-tah folk, after all) and fantasy musical conventions. The resulting awkward, earthbound mishmash thoroughly overshadows Judd and Kline's authentically moving performances. What kind of romance is that?