This musical portrait of legendary song-stylist Cole Porter isn’t completely negligible, but you do have to dig for the good bits. The clunky, self-conscious flashback structure certainly isn’t one of them, playing out biographical highlights in the form of an unfolding revue watched by the ailing elderly Porter (Kevin Kline) with an angel named Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) by his side. Unlike the much-maligned 1946 biopic ‘Night and Day’ with Cary Grant, this one doesn’t whitewash out its subject’s homosexuality, as the heart of the piece is the loving understanding between Porter and his socialite wife Linda (Ashley Judd) that the companionship in their union would involve a certain sexual tolerance. Jay Cocks’ stilted script notwithstanding, the two performers bring genuine emotional complexity to their roles, enough to have you re-interpreting lyrics of, for instance, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’ to insinuate both the unique contours of their marriage and an explicitly gay romantic yearning.
Kline and Judd deserve a movie to themselves, but, unfortunately, the producers have made the disastrous calculation that there’ll be no audience for a Cole Porter flick unless his songs are murdered by a galaxy of today’s top pop talent. Thus Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrisette and company effortfully grind the great man’s exquisite lines to mulch in a series of production numbers awkwardly semi-integrated into the drama. Perhaps Baz Luhrmann might have brought the requisite dash to pull this off, but in Winkler’s hands everyone’s trying so desperately hard to have a swelegant time of it the strain is painfully apparent. Like a badly mixed Martini, it’s obvious throughout the blend just isn’t right.