Cole Porter's best songs are full of glittering wit and joie de vivre, two elements sadly lacking in this ambitious but plodding effort to tell the story of the man behind the music.
The biographical facts on Porter (1891-1964) are juicy enough: Born to wealth, he was a jet-setter before there were jets. Though gay, he was wed for 34 years to socialite Linda Thomas (a wan Judd), who was devoted to him. And he suffered a debilitating accident at the height of his career. It's all up there on the screen, but, despite a committed performance by Kline as Porter, De-Lovely springs to life only during the scenes in which a stellar roster of contemporary singers—look for Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Elvis Costello and Alanis Morissette—pop up individually to croon Porter's ditties. And what songs they are, including "Anything Goes," "Let's Misbehave," "Just One of Those Things" and dozens of other sparklers that deservedly have become standards.
Hollywood already took a whack at Porter in 1946's Night and Day, starring Cary Grant. That sanitized, fictionalized version ignored Porter's true sexuality. This new take, directed by Irwin Winkler (Life as a House), may get closer to the truth, but it never answers the big question posed in one of Porter's best songs, "What is This Thing Called Love?" (PG-13)