A SINGLE MAN is a wonderful film. It is what film should be - brave in subject matter and style, even if not every bold choice succeeds.
Tom Ford, of Gucci and Tom Ford Menswear fame, makes an assured and impressive directorial debut with his adaptation of Christoper Isherwood's novel about a middle-aged man mourning the loss of his long-time lover. The movie opens as George wakes up, and confronts the pain of getting through the day. Then, like THE HOURS, the movie follows him as he dresses impeccably, teaches a literature class to bored college students, cleans out his desk, cleans out his bank account, and prepares to die. These morbid actions are inter-cut with flashbacks to his life with his younger lover Jim
- how he heard the news of Jim's death; intimate moments together; how they met. As the night draws on, the tension builds. George is distracted by dinner with his wonderfully washed up best friend Charley, and then an encounter with an enigmatic young student called Kenny. The question remains: can George find the strength to continue.
A SINGLE MAN is one of the few films to give an intimate, credible portrayal of a long-term homosexual relationship - free of politics or prurience. It's also one of the few films to deal credibly, un-melodramatically, with grief. The relationship between George and Charley - a woman with whom he had a brief fling in her younger days, and who evidently still holds a torch for him - is also utterly believable and heart-breaking. All of this is portrayed sensitively but not earnestly: A SINGLE MAN can be funny and touching and ridiculous all at once.
The success of the film is at all levels of the production. In front of the camera, Colin Firth gives a career-best performance as George - depicting grief, fascination, lust, doubt - and often in extreme close-up. It's an incredibly empathetic performance and deservedly won a prize at Venice. In supporting roles, Julianne Moore is very good as Charley, with young Ryan Simpkins stealing scenes in support. (Matthew Goode and Nicholas Hoult have much smaller roles.) Aside from the acting, I loved Dan Bishop's luxurious production design and DP Eduard Grau's honey-tinged visuals. But most of all, you have to credit director Tom Ford and editor Joan Sobel with their daring non-linear story-telling and the clever inter-cutting of shots in each scene. The film has a dreamy, high-sensory-perception feel, which reminded me a little of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. The only visual tick I found a little annoying and forced was the fact that whenever George looked at something he connected with, the screen warmed up several shades of orange.
A SINGLE MAN played Venice, where Colin Firth won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor, Toronto and London 2009. It will be released in the USA on December 11th; in Italy on January 22nd; in Australia and New Zealand in February.
Eventual tags: drama, tom ford, christopher isherwood, david scearce, colin firth, julianne moore, matthew goode, ginnifer goodwin, nicholas hoult, ryan simpkins, paulette lamori, lee pace,