I've been onstage in two productions of Anything Goes and one each of Kiss Me, Kate and Can-Can, and am a fan of Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, so I was really looking forward to this movie.
In a Nutshell
As a love story, it was excellent. As a musical it left much to be desired. As a biography of Cole Porter, it falls way short.
The premise of the movie is pretty good. The angel Gabriel, disguised as Jonathan Price in a cheap suit, is showing the newly deceased Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) the story of his life. In the form of a Broadway musical. Porter is seated in the otherwise-empty audience of a theater, and the action starts on the stage in front of him.
It has the feel of a director watching a dress rehearsal.
For most of the movie, the stage disappears, and we see the action as a normal movie, with some narration by Gabriel and occasional comments by Porter.
Photography is excellent, as are the costumes and sets.
Kevin Kline is superb as the aged Porter, but for the younger scenes he seems to be playing Kevin Kline. Porter was known for his flighty, glib nature, but Kline gives us someone who, most of the time, has a broomstick up his ass.
The movie doesn't say anything about Porter's childhood, though one deleted scene on the DVD hints he was a child prodigy on the piano, and was Trouble from an early age. Except for a couple of oblique hints, the movie also waited until after his wedding to mention Porter was bisexual, and that at the time of his marriage the world knew he was homosexual, and the wedding to a wealthy divorcee was assumed to be motivated by avarice on his part.
Cole Porter's life was all about the music. This film ruined a lot of his best work.
They had a marvelous idea, to have big name singers perform his music. Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette , Natalie Cole, to name a few. Kevin Kline sings many numbers, and ironically he sings way too good.
Unfortunately, the arrangements mostly suck, and the singers were not well matched to the songs. Begin the Beguine was changed into a minor key, and sounded awful. Crow did a fine job of presenting it, but it just sounded wrong. Cole's number, Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye, was slowed down to 1/2 speed, and sounded like a very beautifully-sung funeral dirge. True Love , one of my favorite Porter tunes, which was made famous by Bing Crosby, was tossed to Ashley Judd and a little girl named Tayler Hamilton, neither of whom had a voice worthy of the tune. In the Still Of The Night was also done in dirge tempo, and Lemar's rendition of What Is This Thing Called Love? never did decide what key to be in. Morissette was just plain annoying singing Let's Do It and Costello as a white-suited swing band leader was uninspiring in Let's Misbehave . Diana Krall delivered a robotic version of Just One Of Those Things. And last, but least, Caroline O'Connor's horrible Ethel Merman impression made Anything Goes painful to hear.
There were some good musical moments. Kline and John Barrowman almost brought out the best in Night And Day, Kline's rendition of Experiment was superb, even if he did sound more like Noel Coward than Cole Porter, and Vivian Green's Love For Sale sounded great.
Be A Clown was another tune which Kline did well, but the heavy hand of the director killed it for me. He stole an idea from a Comden & Greene musical called Bells Are Ringing which features a number where all of a sudden a street scene becomes a 3-ring circus. After the number is over, everyone becomes a normal passerby again. In De-Lovely, the scene is one of the roads on the MGM movie lot. L.B. Mayer, surrounded by his entourage, is telling Porter how to write his lyrics. This goes against Porter's nature, but he shrugs it off by stepping out of reality and launching into Be A Clown. The entire entourage takes part in the number, with Mayer donning a funny hat and a clown nose and taking center stage. It's completely out of character, did not work for me at all.
As I said earlier, the love story is superbly done. I cried two or three times. The funeral scene was especially touching.
But as a biography, this movie has big gaping holes, while pretending to be complete. There is only one in-passing reference to Fred Astaire, ignoring the may songs Porter wrote for him - Night and Day was made famous by Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. Bing Crosby is also skipped, though Don't Fence Me In which he made famous, is done (poorly) in one of the deleted scenes.
Had this been a better-crafted film, Kline would be up for an Oscar for his performance. There is no Kevin Kline in the elderly Cole Porter, and his portrayal of a man from his 20's to old age is amazing. The makeup people deserve a nomination as well. Judd is stunning, vivacious and again would have been nominated if the movie was better. Come to think of it, all the acting is done well, but the directing and musical arranging turn a sure thing into a clunker.