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De-Lovely

Given composer Cole Porter's propensity for sophisticated lyrics, it's tempting to try to come up with a clever, pithy summation of De-Lovely (2004), director Irwin Winkler's film about Porter's life. At the very least, a pun based on the title of one of Porter's hits seems in order. But with all respect to the man behind such timeless tunes as "Night and Day," "Anything Goes," "Let's Misbehave," and countless others, the best way to describe De-Lovely is straightforwardly: It's an earnest, well-meant musical biography that never quite has enough time between numbers to delve into the details of Porter's complicated life. Admittedly, it gets much closer to the truth than the 1946 Cary Grant vehicle Night and Day, which glossed over the more risqué aspects of Porter's private world — particularly his lifelong weakness for pretty young men. De-Lovely not only acknowledges Porter's affairs but hammers their existence home; it seems as though the dapper songwriter (Kevin Kline) is catching some handsome fellow's eye (or lips) in every other scene. Which proves rather difficult for Porter's wife, beautiful socialite Linda Lee (Ashley Judd), who enters the marriage believing that she loves him enough to tolerate his indiscretions — as long as he's discreet — but can never quite stop hoping that he'll give them up. The Porters' intense, complex relationship (which Kline and Judd play with an affectionate intimacy) is at the heart of De-Lovely, which is staged, rather preciously, as a musical version of the composer's life put on for his benefit just before he dies. Thanks to the able direction of a mysterious stranger played by Jonathan Pryce, the elderly Porter is able to look back over the highs and lows of his champagne-soaked career, all accompanied — naturally — by his many hit songs. (In another gimmicky move, most of the big numbers are performed by modern pop artists, from Robbie Williams and Elvis Costello to Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow.) Porter's story offers plenty of drama, but De-Lovely never quite lets viewers into its protagonist's confidence; like Linda, we're left wondering exactly what's going on behind the ready smile and the nimble fingers. Porter spent his whole life behind a piano, spinning clever rhymes and beautiful sentiments — he was able to say much more in song than he ever could without a backup tune. The same is true of Winkler's film: If you take away the lyrics and the score, you're left with something that doesn't quite know how to express itself. MGM's special edition DVD offers a quite de-lovely anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) accompanied by Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (French and Spanish stereo tracks are available, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles). Winkler kicks in a pair of commentary tracks, accompanied by Kline for one and by writer Jay Cocks for the other. Other extras include a "making-of" featurette, a music featurette, two "Anatomy of a Scene" featurettes, nine deleted scenes, a TV spot for the soundtrack, the theatrical trailers, and previews for other MGM titles. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech



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