Opening 20 Jan 2005
Cole Porter ranks as one of the greatest songwriters in America’s glorious musical history. No film with Cole Porter’s ever-hummable melodies, throat-choking ballads and clever, wickedly funny lyrics can be really bad, and this film, about the man himself, is a perfect example. The film takes as its modus operandi the conceit that Porter, old and battered, ravaged by the drugs and alcohol he always abused but more so after his devastating horseback-riding accident in 1957, is taken by the ghost of a producer, kind of like Scrooge, to a theater to experience a musical revue of his life. It’s pretty hokey in the beginning, but once the music begins to fill your ears and the musical numbers are brought to life, you can forget your film critic head and just wallow in the music and the sentimental story. Kevin Kline plays Porter and sings nearly half the numbers himself, in a thin, reedy voice, sitting at a piano in his own or some wealthy friend’s elegant living room in New York, Paris, Hollywood and wherever else he found himself. These pieces were recorded live on the sets and are among the best in the movie. The stage productions, taken from many of Porter’s greatest hits – from Let’s Do It to his final Broadway hit, the late, great Kiss Me Kate – are sung by some of today’s popular singers: Natalie Cole, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morisette, Robbie Williams and the inimitable Diana Krall.
Porter, born in Peru, Indiana in 1891, was the grandson of the richest man in Indiana at the time and grew up in luxury. In 1918 he married a wealthy divorcee, Linda Thomas (Ashley Judd), ten years older than he was (but not in this movie!) and well aware of Porter’s secret life as a homosexual. Linda Porter loved her husband, and the movie and biographies say he loved her too, if only platonically. She managed his Broadway and Hollywood successes. The movie implies she had a miscarriage, something not confirmed anywhere in the five or six biographies of Porter. The silliest scene in the movie is the old-time Hollywood death scene where Linda Porter succumbs gracefully, without even a hint of a hacking cough, from emphysema. But leaving this scene aside – the clothes, the sets, the music are glorious and the entire movie is just, well, delightful. (Adele Riepe)