This 2004 movie is a biopic about the great American songwriter Cole Porter. This genre is popular these days, and there are lots of examples out there, some more successful than others. Some try to portray a whole life, others focus on a seminal period. This one approaches its subject matter in a way that he himself might find enjoyable, presenting a pastiche of vignettes overlaid with fragments of some of his literally hundreds of songs, along the way covering much of his adult life. Like any long and complex life digested for the screen, this biography takes some liberties with the truth, and purists can quibble about the wisdom of that. What I can say is that this is an enjoyable romp filled with wonderful music that also tells the viewer something about the life of a great composer.
Kevin Kline is simply wonderful as Cole Porter. Kline does all his own singing and piano playing in the movie; Porter wasn't a particularly great singer, and neither is Kline, but both are adequate to the task. Porter was an entertainer above all, and Kline's portrayal of him suavely tinkling the ivories and warbling his songs at fabulous parties in Paris and poolside in Hollywood reveals why Porter was such a popular and well-known socialite. His sly lyrics, full of clever rhymes and laden with sexual innuendo, lend themselves perfectly to glittering soirees and exuberant stage shows, featured in this movie by the score. In later life Porter badly injured his legs in a horse-riding accident, after which his life was severely curtailed; he was crippled, endured dozens of unsuccessful operations, and suffered from chronic pain and depression; this too is included in the film.
Unlike an earlier depiction of Porter's life, "Night and Day", this movie doesn't try to hide the fact that he was homosexual, though the more risque scenes of Porter in bed with naked men were left on the cutting room floor. Here it's mostly smoldering glances that signify Porter's sexual predilections. In spite of his sexual orientation, Porter did marry, and his wife Linda is played with great wit and wisdom by Ashley Judd. Linda was quite aware of Porter's preferences; a wealthy and beautiful divorcee some years his senior, she had fled an abusive marriage and was apparently quite content to become platonic life companion to the clever and accomplished musician. The movie suggests at least one sexual encounter between the two for the purpose of having children, which ends sadly in miscarriage, but most dismiss this as fantasy. What is less disputed is that she was a strong supporter of Porter who encouraged him to take his music more seriously, and that in spite of tension and one separation caused by Porter's very public sexual escapades, the two had a long and close relationship.
If all the music in the film were sung by Kline and Judd, the viewer would be forgiven for becoming bored, but the ears are relieved by a string of wonderful performances by some famous singers (like Elvis Costello, Robbie Williams, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole, and Diana Krall) and some less famous, but equally good. The narrative conceit of the film is that it is a series of flashbacks that Porter experiences on his deathbed, the archangel Gabriel (Jonathan Pryce) at his side. As he watches, Porter is thrilled to relive his triumphs and reluctant to review the low points, but Gabriel insists, and his life unfolds until the end, when he died alone, Linda having passed away a decade earlier before.
This interesting movie was directed by Irwin Winkler and written by Jay Cocks. Recommended, even for those who don't like musicals.