Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA/United Kingdom, 2004. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Jay Cocks. Cinematography by Tony Pierce-Roberts. Produced by Rob Cowan, Charles Winkler, Irwin Winkler. Production Design by Eve Stewart. Costume Design by Janty Yates. Film Editing by Julie Monroe. Golden Globe Awards 2004.
It’s post-World War I, and debonair socialite Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) finds himself falling in love with a beautiful woman (Ashley Judd) and marrying her. She is escaping a failed marriage to a brute of a man and is very happy to now be in the arms of an artist whose delicious songs are written for her, and whose love affairs with other men are of absolutely no consequence to her (on the subject she merely says “Let’s just say you like them more than I do”). She also provokes him to go professional with his songwriting instead of leaving it as a hobby, and as a result Porter enjoys a long career as one of America’s foremost song composers, whose ditties for stage and screen have been played on record players around the world for decades. This beautifully shot musical biopic is a lot more honestly realized than the last time someone made a film about Porter (1946’s Night And Day starring Cary Grant as a very straight version of him), though it’s still one of those movies where gay men mostly leer at each other and then hug when they’re alone; to downplay Porter’s gay love affairs and then end the whole thing with a performance of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” is almost too ironic for words. What the film does do correctly is stick to the art of the artist and tell his story through his music. There is virtually not one moment in the entire film where you’re not hearing one of Porter’s gorgeous compositions, augmented by cameo performances from some of the music industry’s most popular performers; the best is an exquisite Sheryl Crow singing “Begin The Beguine”, but there’s also Natalie Cole beautifully crooning “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and Vivian Green doing an unforgettable “Love For Sale”. Winkler’s flawed direction is the real sour point, though, with a pace that lags constantly and isn’t helped by the rank miscasting of Kline in the lead role (who, at 50, is twenty years too old to be playing Porter for at least the first two thirds of the film). Judd, however, is marvelous, and brings to life this unusual romance that defied people’s notions of true love. It’s worth the effort if you love the music, but audience members who aren’t already built-in fans might find their attention wandering off after a while.