My first musical performance was in Cole Porter's Anything Goes. It wasn't for another 13 years — Kiss Me, Kate, opening tonight at the country's second oldest community theater company — that I again performed the works of this prolific composer. So today seemed timely for me to finally watch Kevin Kline portray Porter's life in the 2005 film De-Lovely.
The film is creatively framed as a dying Cole Porter viewing his life as a musical, thus explaining his company's proclivity for breaking into song and dance. Though these numbers are subdued — despite Porter's work is laced throughout the film, I would not call it a musical — they are certainly fiction. What of the story is fact, I am unsure. Surely the highlights of the story are true: his time in Europe writing musicals, his success in Hollywood, his painful, later years. The movie, like my theatrical career thus far, begins with Anything Goes and ends with Kiss Me, Kate.
But the focus of the film is not Porter's music, but his relationships. Porter, despite being homosexual (or perhaps bisexual), married Linda Thomas, with the movie playing out their meeting, mutual understanding, marriage, and tribulations. Watching De-Lovely made me think not about Porter, but about the nature of relationships. Can two people be together yet freely love others — what I believe is called "polyamorous"? Do relationships need formal agreements, or delineations of acceptable and unacceptable behavior? Is that which is hidden acceptable, and the flaunted not? De-Lovely is an interesting case study of situations I have also encountered personally.
In Porter's life, though, they seemed a bit dull. The film goes through cycles: Porter writes a show, meets a man, and his wife pulls him away. Like Brokeback Mountain, I just found it stretched out, both in plot and in individual scenes. I can imagine some people crying at the ending, but by the time it arrived, it just didn't hold much significance for me.
Fortunately, the music and acting were great. Kevin Kline — himself a musical actor, having starred in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance (a play, if not a role, Mr. Kline and I share) — is neither as emotional or over-the-top as he was in the fantastic Life as a House or hilarious A Fish Called Wanda, but he does play Porter subtley and well. The brilliant smile and questing eyes of Ensign Lefler — that is, Ashley Judd — make for an absolutely captivating female lead.
I suppose this film was tragic, as I expected, but not to the depth I'd heard it delved. Whether or not Kiss Me, Kate was one of Cole Porter's better works, I am looking forward to another op'nin', another show tonight.