Movie Review: A Single Man

January 28, 2010  

by Nadia Dabbakeh

I finally made it to a showing of Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, with mixed expectations.

On the one hand, the infamous creative director of Gucci is a sartorial wunderkind, on the other, how will his design experience translate to the big screen?

With Ford at the helm, the very least I expected from his adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s short story was a parade of beautiful people in beautiful clothes.

What I got was so much more.

Taking place over one day and night in Santa Monica – November 30, 1962 – in the life of devastatingly handsome, and terribly sad-eyed, middle-aged university professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) as he puts together his life – so he can end it, the film is a bleak meditation on love, loss and survival.

This film has something for everyone.

Since the death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his lover of 16 years, George has been going through the empty motions, illustrated by his every move from the shining and sliding on of black loafers, to the knotting of his tie.

On this day, we see George place a pistol in his briefcase and set his affairs in order – he writes a letter to his longtime friend and support system/complete mess Charley (Julianne Moore) and leaves cash for his housekeeper – in order to finally put an end to it all.

Firth puts aside his usual role of repressed Englishman (the one he has been playing since his Mr. Darcy role of the early 90s) and brings a tender openness to a forlorn man in existential crisis.

As George’s day unfolds, and he must endure irritating neighborhood children and colleagues yammering on about bomb shelters, his flashbacks to happier days and obviously deep sorrow make for a character you just want to embrace.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the film is Tom Ford through and through – the sets, designed by the same set designers of Mad Men; take you back to Kennedy-era sophistication.

From the striking and detailed design of George’s mid-century house and vintage Mercedes, to his perfectly cut suits and thickly framed glasses, you are transported into a Ford editorial.

Everything in this film is beautiful and meticulously styled, and everyone seems to have been plucked off a runway: Charley’s Hollywood Regency glam home, clothing, big gold baubles and heavy makeup, the young, piercingly blue-eyed and flirtatious student and his Bardot female counterpart, the friendly foreign prostitute, the chiseled, haunting face of his deceased lover, the bemused secretary or perfectly manicured bank teller, the well-tended lawns of his neighbors and their doll-like children – at any point in this film you can take a random screen shot and find yourself with a postcard perfect scene.

Also, there are no sex scenes.

In fact, Ford has made the single sex relationship in this film an afterthought.

It is not thrown in your face as if to say look, gay relationships are normal and conventional and just as beautiful as heterosexual ones.

Ford does not acknowledge or treat it as a rare entity (though we all know that in mainstream cinema, the same sex relationship is foreign), but lets it play out like there is nothing “different.”

One barely notices that this is a film focused on a male-male relationship, but rather gets lost in George’s simple agony over the loss of his partner.

The film exceeded all expectations, it’s haunting cinematography prowling in a haunting manner over the shell-like abyss of everyone from a man who has lost the will to live, a fragile women lost in the depths of her Tanqueray bottles, and a confused but insightful youth who is dissatisfied with his less enlightened classmates, without ever descending into unnecessary melodrama or self awareness.

I cannot wait to see what Ford does next – welcome to tinsel town.

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