Tom Ford, ex-designer for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, founder of his own eponymous menswear line, makes his debut as a director with “A Single Man,” an adaptation of the 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name, and, as you might have guessed given his pedigree, this is a great looking film. The former fashionista hasn’t art directed it with Joel Schumacher style bombast, but with elegant good taste. He has steeped the film in beautiful people, places and things. Even an off camera voice over is done by Jon Hamm, who “People” called one of the “sexiest men of the year.” But don’t think “A Single Man” is all style and no substance. Ford paid attention to the pictures, but like another film sensualist, Pedro Almodovar, he also got the emotion of the piece right.
Set in early-’60s Los Angeles, “A Single Man,” is a slice of gay English professor George’s (Colin Firth) life. “I’m having a serious day,” he says on a smoggy LA afternoon as he makes preparations for his suicide following the sudden death of his longtime partner Jim (Matthew Goode). As he meticulously tidies up the odds and ends of his life he takes time to have dinner with Charlotte (Julianne Moore), an old friend and chat with a curious student.
“A Single Man” is a study of grief. Ford portrays the scale of George’s loss through carefully rendered flashbacks and dream sequences, alternating between a cold color pallet for the post-Jim scenes and vibrant, lively hues for when he was still alive. It’s an old trick, but the subdued look of George’s sad life packs an emotional wallop. This is a man who, after losing his love and not being allowed to go to the funeral—it’s for “family only” he’s told—has lost the will to live. “For the first time in my life,” he says, “I can’t see my future.” His outlook is as murky and grey as the film stock.
Firth oozes repression and sadness as George. He’s low key, a shadow of the man George was before Jim’s death, but Firth adds small details that add color to his character. When he spots a dog like the one he used to share with Jim the random sense memory catapults him back to a different place and time, a happier place and time. Firth and the film do a good job at portraying the small things that keep the memory of a lost loved one alive.
“A Single Man” isn’t a feel good movie, it’s an art house picture about loss and sadness, but as one character says, “Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty.”
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