A Single Man (2009)
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, and Nicholas Hoult
Directed By: Tom Ford
Written By: Tom Ford and David Scearce
A recent discussion with a twitter bff of mine (there’s an application that checks for you…honest) has shown me that there’s a good amount of the population who feel Hollywood has gone stale. It’s hard to argue with that. Even though I still like a lot of movies that are released, it’s easy to see that there are obvious formulas that have been found and are used over and over again. Don’t even get me started on the crap that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer on a seemingly yearly basis. So, it’s refreshing to see new faces join the mix with a new view of things. A Single Man features the talents of Tom Ford (a fashion designer by trade) and David Scearce’s debuts in the movie business…and what a debut it is.
The film follows George (Firth), a British born professor who now resides in southern California in the early 1960s. Yes, he’s currently single, living in his house of glass (no, seriously, there are windows to be found everywhere). Unfortunately, this isn’t by choice. George’s lover of 16 years (Matthew Goode’s Jim) has recently died in a car accident as he was visiting home in in Colorado. He finds out about this by phone, though his family doesn’t want him going tot he funeral. In fact, Jim’s parents didn’t even want George to know that he had died. Nice, right? This is the setup for a day in the life of a not-so-stuffy English professor as he deals with the death of the man he loved.
Along the way, he encounters various people. His long time friend and past lover Charley (Moore), who’s dealing with a divorce has him over for a few drinks. He befriends a very interested student of his Kenny (Hoult) who he proceeds to have a drink with and go for a little night swim. He encounters a male prostitute named Carlos (Jon Kortajarena) and only has a conversation with him. While all of this is happening on this very busy day, George is not only having flashbacks over his time with Jim, but he’s also plotting his own suicide. He may or may not do it. You’ll have to watch to find out what happens at the end.
George is not at all what we expect him to be. We expect him to be a complete square and he’s anything but that. He does go into a little internal monologue in the beginning in which he states that it takes time to “become George” in the morning. What he means is it takes time to get into the mindset and role that the world expects him to play. He’s supposed to be an intelligent (and usually boring) professor. On this particular day of class, he goes off the beaten path and talks to the class about fear. Only Kenny seems to enjoy this. The rest of the class doesn’t take to it. It’s not what’s expected of him and is over their heads. It’s interesting to see this professor go drink with his friends and cut loose. It’s good to see the layers of a character rather than a definition.
Since director Tom Ford a fashion designer, you can expect this film to be very stylish. The clothes are all great and all the people are those who you would consider to be among the beautiful. Everyone is nicely kept. It’s certainly an idealized world visually. An interesting trick is the use of color. There are some flashback scenes that are without it. It’s as if George is slowly forgetting it. The dream sequence in which George sees Jim’s accident, it’s snow covered, so everything is a bright white. This is direct contrast to the moments of clarity that George has (the first time meeting Jim, for example). Here the colors become deeper, more vibrant. As George puts it, it’s in these moments where everything makes sense, the colors only help with that.
Much has been made about Firth’s performance as George (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award). I can honestly say that it is absolutely outstanding and ranks among the best in the past year. It’s the little moments where he really shines: the moments he’s alone, contemplating his own demise. It is truly a wonderful performance. Moore’s Charley is a nice character. She’s a rather well off, former beauty who longs for her youth (and for George to return to his bisexual past). Goode does a solid job, he’s very believable as George’s love interest. Hoult’s Kenny is an interesting character. He’s a bold one who probably reminds George of himself when he was younger. Hoult does a good job as he definitely portrays Kenny as an optimistic and curious (in more ways than one) young man.
Bottom Line: While I did mention on twitter that I wasn’t sure about the ending, A Single Man is a very good film. The ending may be problematic, but I suppose no matter what they did, it would have been cliched (nothing feels original anymore). Tom Ford has made one heck of a debut and I can only hope for some followups. Still, the real star here is Firth. His George is a really engaging and unique character, who’s depth we don’t quite see anymore. If nothing else, this is a must see for Firth’s performance alone.