Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Yesterday I had the pleasure to go see the new movie A Single Man, based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, co-written and directed by first-time director and renowned fashion designer who for a decade was the creative director at Gucci, Tom Ford. Set in Los Angeles in 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, A Single Man is the story of George Falconer, a 52 year old British college professor who is struggling to find meaning to his life after the death of his long time partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). George (Colin Firth) dwells on the past and cannot see his future as we follow him through a single day, where a series of peculiar events and odd encounters take place. George is consoled by his closest friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a 48 year old beauty who is wrestling with her own questions about her future & relevance. A young student of George’s, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who is coming to terms with his true nature, stalks George as he feels in him a kindred spirit. In one sentence I’d probably describe it as a singularly enjoyable and moving film. An exquisite, almost sensual sense of grief suffuses every frame of the film and basically everything fits perfectly, from the tone, mood to the music, but most of all Firth, who dons the role of George like a fine bespoke suit. Often films within the ‘drama’ genre aren't revelations exactly, but they burrow so deeply into old truths about love and loss and the mess and thrill of life, they seem new anyway, A Single Man is one such film, further amplified by Colin Firth’s eloquently internalized performance. It's hard to sell people on a movie about grief, but A Single Man deserves recognition for being about something real that usually goes unexplored: The grief from which there really can be no return. The film tells of love, isolation, and sorrow, like a big coffee table book on grief, loneliness, tragedy and insurmountable pain of loss- and mid-20th-century home design ;) Despite its downbeat theme this self-financed labor of love isn’t without light moments, although they are never brought forward, the movie does place some focus, whether relevant or not on good looking, often-unclothed men to accompany the perfectly tailored cinematography that at times is so unusually beautiful it would be easy to dismiss it as superficial; one critic even wrote ‘[the film] with one significant exception, gives us only a series of immaculate poses. The exception is Firth, who, in spite of Ford's best efforts to turn him, too, into another piece of movable scenery, manages to convey a real human soul stirring beneath George's petrified façade’. The lead character explains himself in voice-overs:“Just get through the goddamned day: bit melodramatic, perhaps, but then again, my heart has been broken. Feel as if I’m drowning, sinking, can’t breathe,” he says. Such wordiness seems superfluous to Firth, who is amazingly & perfectly capable of showing any congestion of spirit by body language alone. The film is slowed by its own beauty, but salvaged by 2 majestic scenes. In one, George learns of Jim’s death in a phone call, during which his voice (this being 1962) must betray nothing, leaving his face (on which Ford is smart enough to keep the camera) to do all the work; in another, the dirge-like odyssey and melancholic mood is lightened up when George goes around for an evening with his best friend Charley (Julianne Moore), who’s fabulous and likes to start boozing as she puts on her face in the morning, on this scene she brings about a welcomed respite from Firth’s clenched emoting. Throughout the night you are introduced to two characters trying and failing to drown their pale hopes and regrets, and two strong actors refusing to be tight-laced by a director’s exercise in style. The movie ends as it started, apparently in the book, which I haven’t read, the story is more gut wrenching, but Ford settles for the glossy ephemera of a Vanity Fair cover spread, but with that said, Colin Firth’s Oscar worthy performance is enough. Every movie is a performance, but very seldom is a performance a movie and thus this is a stunning debut effort worthy of all the accolades.