Near the end of De-Lovely, Cole Porter (Kevin Kline), relishing what would be his last moment of glory, arrives at a Broadway theater for the premiere of ”Kiss Me, Kate.” As the result of a riding accident years before, he has been denied the use of his legs, and as he lurches down the aisle with a pair of crutches, the audience delivers an ovation that is tinged with melancholy. Then the show begins, and we hear a version of ”So in Love” that sweeps and soars with gilded yearning. No longer just a love theme, it’s the romantic testament of Cole Porter at the twilight of his creative life. The scene is conventional in its poignance, yet as driven by the sweetness of the music it carries a lilting charge.
It’s tempting to describe ”De-Lovely” as a standard Hollywood biography that happens to be graced with some of the most sublime popular songs ever composed. Except that the movie, written by Jay Cocks and directed by Irwin Winkler, creates a genuine alchemy: We can accept this tidy, cause-and-effect version of Porter’s life because the songs so fully express his spirit. Kline’s jauntiness has deepened with the years, and he makes Porter a playful sweet-and-sour sophisticate who marries Linda Lee (Ashley Judd), loves her until the end of his life, and has no guilt about acting out his desires for men. Porter is haunted by his accident, yet ”De-Lovely ”is something dishy and rare: a biopic about a happy, and even enchanted, man.