When a ghostly producer tells him he's about to put on a musical revue of his life, the geriatric Cole Porter is unimpressed. "Is this one of those avant-garde things?" he grimaces. If only it was. Although the idea of showcasing Porter's catalogue of songs through the medium for which they were written is well-intentioned, the result is an apologetic affair. It may strive for the verve of Moulin Rouge, but it never commits to its central conceit.
Jay Gangs Of New York Cocks' elegant screenplay (written with the approval of the Porter estate) explores Cole's indiscriminate sexual appetite and hedonistic lifestyle in a way the sanitised 1946 biopic Night And Day never could, but De-Lovely provides little insight into the real motivations behind Porter's work. And while the film is pitched as a romance, Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd remain an unconvincing duo: him walking a fine line between camp and theatrical, her attempting to convey class by jutting out her chin and speaking with narrowed eyes.
In real life, Cole and Linda enjoyed a lengthy and devoted marriage, despite his many gay entanglements and her battle with cancer. But a moving intimacy is only successfully achieved in a belated scene where Cole serenades her with `So In Love'.
Indeed, De-Lovely only really comes to life when Porter's timeless songs are performed by a phalanx of cameo performers. While Robbie Williams' cheeky-chappie schtick may grate, there's plenty of fun to be had from seeing Mick Hucknall dressed as a Canadian Mountie, Sheryl Crow singing `Begin The Beguine' and hearing Alanis Morissette's bizarre, warbled rendition of `Let's Do It'. Informed by Porter's sexual preferences, the lyrics take on a new, naughty meaning that provide a more candid glimpse into his inspiration and intentions than the movie ever manages to achieve.
This lovingly crafted biopic would make passable TV fodder. As a cinematic show-stopper, though, it never quite hits the right notes.