A Single Man (2009)
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It is easily one of the most Oscar-deserving films of the year. Colin Firth's performance screams "Best Actor" (which he did win at the Venice Film Festival), Julianne Moore is exquisite, and Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy, Skins) is on his way to stardom. I was simply awestruck.
The curtain rises on a despondent George (Firth) having lost his longtime partner. Sapped of energy and will, he struggles to wake each day and function as the brilliant college professor he's expected to be. Few notice the change in him, but one student sees George as a magnet pulling him forward to a place even he doesn't understand. Kenny (Hoult) seems to glow like an angel in George's dark world and, yet, is a puzzle and presents a challenge which he doesn't necessarily want to confront at this stage in his life. As is his custom, he turns to Charlotte (Moore) for a warm shoulder but the temperature drops amidst the chill surrounding George's bleak existence.
Everything about this film -- the look, colors, pacing, shots, composition, cinematography, costumes, soundtrack -- says that an extraordinary amount of love and care went into it. Special mention to director of photography Eduard Grau and editor Joan Sobel for their keen abilities to work lockstep with Ford in projecting his vision onto the screen. Abel Korzeniowski's score is haunting and moving. Despite his design genius, Ford was generous enough to entrust costume designer Arianne Phillips with the freedom to work unencumbered. Production designer Dan Bishop, with art direction by Ian Phillips and set decorator Amy Wells, created two worlds -- a cold, stark one in which George sees only hopelessness, and another warm, colorful one in which he has hope.
What stays with the viewer, though, is the enigmatic friendship between George and Kenny. Nicholas Hoult is absolutely mesmerizing in this. The way Ford shot him made people gasp. He's lit, framed, and shot like an Adonis. Of course, that's the idea here. This will definitely be a break out role for the 19-year-old. The camera loves him, and it's a pretty daring performance.
Most of all, this is a tour de force for Firth and a stunning achievement which is destined to be a highlight of his distinguished career. The range of emotions and the extent to which his character must convey them through his eyes and facial expressions, with the copious use of long takes without dialogue, left me wide-eyed with wonder.
This is the stuff of great movies. They don't get much better than this.
George just wants to get through the day and kill himself with dignity after the party. The movie basically follows him through the day as he makes his preparations, and the big question is, Is he really going to do it? The movie is not easy to watch. For one thing, it paints an unbearable portrait of grief. Colin Firth displays pain in his voice and face throughout most of the movie; even when he's smiling or seemingly content, there's in his eyes a vestige of sadness and weariness. Secondly, George is such an instantly likable character, it's painful to watch him going about his life knowing he wants to put an end to it. It's so easy to fall in love with him, that his pain becomes ours very quickly.
The simplicity of the movie's premise is made up by Firth's outstanding performance, and also by Julianne Moore's. She plays Charley, a woman he once dated, and the only person who knows he's homosexual. I don't know how long she is in the movie, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, but in that short time she gives an amazing performance as a woman who doesn't have much to look for, like George, who doesn't have anyone else in her life, no dreams, no future, just memories of her good days with George.
Tom Ford also complements the movie by giving it a very distinctive visual style: pretty much every scene is unique in the way it looks and the way it is shot. One of my favorite examples is the way he portrays the cluster of emotions in George, visualizing his pain by showing imaginary scenes of him drowning. Not only is it a lovely metaphor, but also connects with a scene in the movie that is the closest thing to happiness George feels in it.
Although this was Tom Ford's debut movie, and he showed what a good filmmaker he can be, for me the revelation of this movie was Abel Korzeniowski, a Polish film composer who brings a unique sound of melancholy to the movie. How he was ignored by the Oscars is beyond me.
A lot of things in this movie were ignored by the Oscars this year, and yet I think this movie, being the intimate character study that it is, has better chances of outliving all other movies in competition in years to come. I hope so, because movies like this is the direction cinema needs to go in.
Firth, always elegant and fascinating, plays George Falconer, a British professor in 1960's Los Angeles trying to cope with the death of his long-term partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). It's been eight months since Jim's death, and George decided to end his life by the end of the day – and it's this day we see in this admirable film. George spends time with his best friend Charley (the always wonderful Julianne Moore), with whom he had something in the past (and still has hopes of winning him over again), and now is an unhappy divorcée. A young pupil, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult, who has grown up a lot since "About a Boy" and "The Weather Man"), who clearly is infatuated with George, harasses him until he finally gives him the attention he craves. These two different encounters will be decisive for George. As sad as the overall tone and the theme of mourning can be, "A Single Man" is by no means depressing. Ford uses and abuses of "artsy", but very efficient and intriguing camera angles, and a classy score by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski. Eyes, lips are shown in evidence throughout the film, and naturally, the costumes are all superb.
George's long day's journey reminds me a lot of Virginia Woolf's classic "Mrs. Dalloway". Marleen Gorris was able to do a correct but somewhat cold adaptation of Woolf's novel in 1997 (scripted by Woolf scholar and talented actress Eileen Atkins, featuring the magnificent Vanessa Redgrave in the title role), but I thought she wasn't much to blame for the film's coldness since that's one of the most complex novels to be translated to the screen. After seeing "A Single Man", I even dare to say Tom Ford could do an interesting and very personal adaptation of "Mrs. Dalloway". Also, this is one of the sexiest films since Alfonso Cuaron's "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001) and Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" (2003), and Nicholas Hoult's incandescent presence has a lot to do with that. He gives an efficient, brave performance for an actor his age, and although I'm sure Jamie Bell ("Billy Elliot"), who was the first choice for the role, would've been terrific, Hoult doesn't disappoint. It's not every day we're given a film with such emotional intensity and exuberant sensuality, and "A Single Man" proves that Tom Ford is certainly a promising director, having given us not just a great first film, but one also one of the year's finest and most unusual creations. A film to be felt and celebrated, and I can't wait for the DVD - it's a keeper. 10/10.
The action takes place over the course of just one day (and night) -- 30 November 1962 -- in the life of handsome, middle-aged college professor George (Colin Firth). Like his friend, neighbour and one-time lover Charley (Julianne Moore), George is an expat in LA. He has a good job and a well-appointed home in a picture-perfect suburban street, but since the death of his long-term lover Joe (Matthew Goode) a few months earlier, George has been going through the motions. Now today it appears that he is putting his affairs in order, with a view to ending it all.
I must confess that I never swooned over Colin Firth's Mr Darcy back in the 90s and I've found it increasingly hard to relate to the repressed, lovelorn and frankly lumpen Englishmen he often plays. But here he's a revelation. As George's day unfolds, a series of reveries -- erotic, nostalgic, humorous and sad -- reveal the man behind the immaculately suited exterior. Whether perched on the loo wryly observing his neighbours, lavishing praise on a bemused secretary, or enduring a discourse on bomb shelters from a colleague (Lee Pace), Firth shows a welcome lightness of touch. He's tender and tolerant as Moore's gin-sodden hostess berates him for his inability to be the (heterosexual) man she needs. And his obsessive-compulsive fumbling with a gun and a sleeping bag are hilarious.
Moore expertly conveys the fragility and hopelessness of a woman once married and once feted for her looks, who is now staring into the abyss through the bottom of a bottle of Tanqueray's. It reminded me of some of her best work -- in Safe, Boogie Nights and The Hours -- and made me wish she'd stop wasting her talent playing second fiddle to the likes of Nicolas Cage and Samuel L Jackson.
It's a film in which the camera restlessly prowls in search of physical perfection: in the well-tended gardens of George's neighbourhood; the piercing blue eyes of flirtatious student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult); and the chiselled looks of Goode's doomed lover. But the script, co-written by Ford and David Scearce, ensures that this never descends into pastiche or glossy melodrama.
George's flashbacks with Jim focus on their personalities, rather than on their sex, unlike so many other movies of today, where "making love" predominates "love". Yet the emphasis centers on their good times together - almost too good to be true. Herein lies a paradox, because if it really was so, then George had a better life than most of us, and frankly, it's difficult to feel too sorry for him. Get on with your life, buddy, and be thankful for what you had!
On the other hand, after an emotionally arousing but apparently nonsexual encounter with Kenny (here again the theme of love versus making love), George puts away his gun and burns his letters of goodbye, only to then suffer a fatal heart attack. In his dying moments he reunites with his beloved Jim, but we can only speculate whether it's merely reveries or authentic life after death. The credits roll at this point, so we need also wonder about Kenny's state of mind when he finds George's body. Life and its suffering do go on.
The film's advertising is slightly misleading in that George is shown lying next to Charley, his woman friend with whom he had a past relationship. Sure, this is designed to attract straight viewers, but anyone hungry for psychologically rather than sexually mature scenes between a man and woman will find it here.
We are born single and usually die alone. A Single Man dramatizes our loneliness in a powerful and literally haunting way. I seriously recommend watching this film alone to let it capture you in its rumination.
Everything appeared prim and proper. The audience is given to believe that a university professor in the America of the 1960s is so well remunerated that he has the finest furnishings, the finest wardrobe (where sartorial elegance is constantly on display), and all the other good things that life can offer. This is what happens when there is too much of a stress on form and beauty -- it moves into the realm of make believe. Depending on one's point of view this either helps to shore-up a rather thin storyline or it makes its thinness even more apparent.
And where was the punchline? Perhaps it came in the abruptness of the ending.
Framed with superb art direction, a keen eye for accurate recreation of a period long gone, and one of the most haunting scores in recent history, we see how George is going through the motions on his way to what he perceives as the solution to his sad situation. From the moment he wakes up to another miserable day, he has finally found a purpose, and this time, he has something to look forward to. Still, as unpredictable as life is, a series of events occur to have him pause and reflect on whether he's making the right decision.
It is as if divine intervention might offer him an opportunity to reconsider, or is it just a couple of disguised attempts from other people who look for something less profound. These are interesting moments in the film when a hustler and a young man try to connect with George, and he certainly seems to appreciate their attempts, but he also seems to question the sincerity of their respective motives, or is it that he has already given up on trying to find happiness? There are other possible lifelines, and here comes Charly, a long time friend, who was at one time, romantically involved with George. It is also obvious that Charly never really got to know who George was, and at a critical moment, she seems to unaware of how desperate the situation might be. The scenes between George and Charly are incredibly sad, mostly because of her inability to read what is happening to her best friend. Yet the scenes pale in comparison to the everyday scenes where George's reveal that he wants to somehow overcome the pain and desperation he is going through. He looks at the eyes of strangers, yearning to see if he can capture some of the energy he now lacks. Ironically some of them find him attractive and want to connect, but it just might be too late for George.
The film is lovingly photographed, with Ford's masterful hand taking us through the potentially last moments of George's existence. Some people might argue that it is just too beautiful a picture to deliver its devastating message. Yet, why is it that metaphorically speaking, isn't it worse when people are unaware of the beauty surrounding them that makes the situation more pathetic? Firth can see the beauty, but he can longer enjoy it. His world might not be perfect, but he lives in an amazing place, has a great job, good friends, and yet his broken heart can't take it anymore.
The film will rank as one of the greatest romantic tragedies of all time, peppered with flashbacks of George's happier times, and showing the contrast of wasted possibilities, nothing will prepare the audience for the shocking ending, and it might lead to a never ending debate of whether the ending fits the rest of the film. I believe "A Single Man" is an amazing accomplishment, led by the best male performance of the year, one full of complexity and going beyond gimmicks, much like Vivien Leigh gave us a full character, with its contradictions and an incredible range, here comes Firth, showing how an another can give us a lifetime of experience in 90 minutes, with a smirk, or a sorrowful look that speaks more than a thousand words. He recalls Heath's great performance in "Brokeback Mountain", another character whose tortured plight touched us.
Would you ever suspect that you would love a film by a fashion designer turned first time director? I didn't quite know what to expect from Tom Ford as he told his version of the book, A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. I knew from the trailer that everyone was going to look their very best, but not much more until I sat down to watch it.
A Single Man is the story of George, an English professor in 1962 that has recently lost his partner of 16 years to a car accident. With the disapproving family not allowing him to attend the funeral, George is left to fester in his own pain for 8 months. When he wakes up from yet another painful night of memories, he decides to end his life and we spend the rest of the film watching George live his last day with moments of clarity.
We see George in almost every scene in the film and get little bits from other great actors here and there like Julianne Moore, who plays Charley, his neighbor and best friend, who he has been very close to for years. We spend the most time with her and she does not disappoint. Charley has come over to California from London as well as George and so they have a past. She spends her days passing the time with a bottle of gin or applying makeup, but when she has George over, she is also very attentive and a true friend while still getting drunk. Matthew Goode plays Jim, the deceased partner and lover, and we get to know him from George's flashbacks. He seems to be just perfect with George. They seem to literally complete each other. Every flashback of Jim will put a smile on your face.
Ginnifer Goodwin plays a nice neighbor and Lee Pace stops in as a co- worker at school. Both parts are very brief and I would have loved more of each. They are both great actors and even in the few scenes we see them in, we could see a history with George. I love Ginnifer in Big Love and she seemed just as warm to George in this film. Just with a kind hello or a smile in her eyes, you could see that they knew each other more than we get to see. I imagined that when her husband went to work, she would have him over for tea or something completely innocent like that. Lee Pace was in one of my favorite movies, The Fall and I was actually taken back by the utter lack of use of his character. He completely fit the look of the other characters as well and already has a sixties look. Kenny comes along, played by Nicholas Hoult, who you may remember from About a Boy with Hugh Grant. He is almost all grown up now and not afraid to approach his professor and ask him some very personal questions.
As George tries to get through the day so that he can get home and get things in order, many things get in the way, life. He begins to talk with his student Kenny in a way that might be more romantic rather than a professional relationship, and he spends a few hours with Charley over dinner and drinks reminiscing their lives apart. Much of this film is spent making the viewer feel like a fly on the wall in George's life. At points in the story, there is dead silence, only the sounds of a real life and we are immersed in his world. Other times in flashbacks, the pain is so much, that the noise is deafening. Ford shows us this by muting the most upsetting parts of his life and leaving us just the images to be burned into our minds.
This is not your every day, mainstream kind of film. This is a film directed to a certain audience and open minded story lovers. Ford chose to shoot this very artistically and seems to blend black and white scenes seamlessly with color scenes and then completely drain the color in front of your eyes. This is a film that will immerse your soul and use all of your senses to encompass the nature of the story. The symbolism is very faint at times, yet so prominent. A gay man in the sixties is an invisible man, yet he chooses to live in a glass house. The world outside of the memories he holds with Jim are very sterile and bland. Every scene is very gray and dull and seems lifeless. Until these moments of clarity come in and almost instantly, there will be a burst of color that everyone will appreciate.
At times, the cinematography was so great, I thought I might be witnessing a perfume commercial in Italy, in the way that Chanel No. 5 would entice you to purchase their product to become beautiful and stunning, Ford entices you to become visually intrigued with the characters. The colors and close ups of the opening scenes are where this is felt the most. There is a dream sequence that I am speaking of, specifically, that seems like it puts you in a daze. Sometimes, the shots were so tight on a conversation, I felt uncomfortable. I wished for a break from the reality and wanted to pull back, but in the end, I'm glad Ford kept my eyes glued to the scenes. In this way, it truly feels like seeing through the eyes of another. The way he looks at someone else may not be how you would see them, but it's refreshing to have a risky director give it all to show that to us.
It's all too exquisite in its sweet sadness, and George's friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a boozy divorcée, also English, also lonely, lives in another kind of equally glamorous dream house, the glitzy overdecorated kind, a fitting showcase for a woman whose expensive clothes, beehive hair and elaborate makeup accompany a grand manner.
And though George is inconsolable, and his life now -- the story recounts only one day of it -- has been reduced to just going through the motions, he seems to be offered some choice opportunities to forget his troubles. He's being relentlessly stalked by a fresh-faced and pretty young male student called Kenny (Nicholas Holt, the BBC "Skins" star, like Goode actually English but playing American) who might be any gay teacher's fantasy. Coming out of a liquor store George encounters a to-die-for young Spaniard, Carlos (Jon Kortajarena, a former Ford model) a dreamy Mediterranean James Dean with a Castilian accent who's ready to jump into the Mercedes and into bed. These scenes are all in the novel, though one imagines George in casual tweeds and all the accouterments so splendidly on view are less significant in the book than what simply happens. Sometimes in this film the visuals completely take over.
Even George's suicide preparations are nice to look at, as well as genteel -- the way he's received politely by name at the bank when withdrawing valuables and arranges important papers and keys on the floor for people to find, leaving a handsome wad of cash for his irreplaceable Latina housekeeper. Charley is a great friend; her invitation to dinner tête-à-tête at her place causes George to put off self-immolation for a few hours and they share a discreet drunk together and have a wonderful laugh dancing the twist. This sequence is superbly done and Julianne Moore, an American playing a Brit, does some of her best acting ever.
If it feels overdone, on the other hand Ford's film is unquestionably cinematic in the way it drenches experience and memory in inter-cut images, and what could be more 1960 gay than remembering a beach scene with one's lover as if it had been photographed in black and white by the German Thirties sensualist Herbert List?
Even though it's a mite too gorgeous and glossy, this is an admirable and in some ways quite wonderful film, and that's because its emotions, however muted, seem real. Designer Tom Ford would not be expected to do things inelegantly. Gay man Tom Ford would not be expected to cast any but the most delicious young men. (Colin Firth isn't young, but his performance provides us with the richest depiction of an older gay man in film since John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday.) If Ford overdoes the poshness, he doesn't distort or satirize the period. Though this is an immaculate world -- even a pesky little boy with a toy pistol is perfectly turned out -- there is real, believable suffering.
George has his 'Brokeback' moment, a flashback scene of the time eight months earlier when he got the phone call informing him, belatedly and with the unspeakable buttoned-down cruelty of the straight world of that era, of his longtime lover's death. If Colin Firth doesn't get an Oscar nomination on the basis of this scene alone, but also for all the richly modulated moments throughout the film, Hollywood will have performed another of its 'Brokeback' travesties -- proving that it only pretends to be gay-friendly but when it comes to hard truths prefers to look away. Because there's a lot of hard truth behind the gloss, about the "invisible" minorities George speaks of to his literature class on Huxley's 'After Many a Summer Dies the Swan,' about how it is to grab private happiness from a world of meanness, and about hedonism. Isherwood knew whereof he spoke, and Tom Ford, working with David Scearce on the screenplay, gets those parts absolutely right.
Even George's neighbour, long time friend and one time lover Charlotte, can't quite believe that what George and Jim shared was real love, Wasn't it, she inquires, really just a substitute for the real thing? No replies George angrily, probably the only time we really see his teflon demeanour crack.
A Single Man is a superb movie. Moving, beautifully crafted, well written and fabulously well acted. The only reason I haven't given it ten is because the ending is perhaps just a little too 'pat'. Fashion designer Tom Ford can feel justifiably proud of his debut as a film director. The movie is based on a Christopher Isherwood story and written for the screen by Ford himself and David Scearce. Every scene is beautifully constructed, perfectly lit and the design is, as one might imagine of someone with Ford's artistic eye, unimpeachable. Every detail of early 1960s life is here, from the interiors to the attitudes.
When the movie opens, Jim has been dead eight months and George cannot come to terms with the loss. Every day it's agony to wake up, every day just has to be gotten through. George, a college lecturer and an ex-pat Brit, has lost his soul mate, his life, his love, but cannot even express that loss openly at a time when homosexuals were still persecuted. He is invisible and his grief doesn't exist to the world, except for Charlotte (Charley), neighbour and fellow Brit, who sympathises and yet still yearns for George in a naive way, a feeling still lodged in the recesses of her under-used brain that all would be right with the world if they could only get together. Julianne Moore is perfect as Charley, a heavy drinking and smoking, rich, divorced fashionista with no proper job and way too much time on her hands, as clever women so often had, in those pre-feminist days.
The story follows George through the day he has chosen to end it all. Suicide will end his pain. He methodically puts his affairs in order, leaving everything neat and tidy, right down to the clothes for his funeral, the insurance policies neatly laid out on his table, last compliments paid to his staff and co-workers. He buys bullets for his old gun, and, in a scene infused with black humour, tries to decide how best to shoot himself so as to leave the least mess for his house cleaner. But he can't quite get it right, so goes off to the liquor store to buy a bottle of whiskey and while he is there, meets one of his students, Kenny, himself struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. A series of people reach out to George in small acts of kindness throughout his day, and the movie turns on whether or not these small acts will be enough to convince George to go on with life, or whether he will still pull the trigger.
It may sound like a rather gloomy subject, but A Single Man is life affirming, and moving, and an excellent study in bereavement. Colin Firth gives the performance of a lifetime, beautifully contained and you have to feel he may have finally have shaken off the ghost of Mr Darcy and his Thinking Girl's Crumpet tag forever. He is a much better actor than he is usually given credit for and should be a bigger star than he currently is. I would not be surprised to see both Firth and Moore nominated on the strength of these performances.
This is obviously subject matter close to the heart of Tom Ford. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next time.
A Single Man is an extremely overrated movie. It consists of one boring scene after another of George just talking to someone about something irrelevant and uninteresting. Intersperced between these are flashbacks of his life with his deceased lover in which they, you guessed it, talk. The visuals can be impressive at times and Tom Ford's use of altering the colors to emphasize scenes is the only thing I can really commend about A Single Man.
Apparently George is a guy magnet as well because everywhere he goes he meets an overly attractive and absurdly articulate gay man. Every single person in the movie appears to be a poet who has nuggets of wisdom and life lessons to impart. George is an English professor, so that makes since but there all plenty of dumb people walking around who aren't going to shake the foundations of your beliefs with one conversation.
Also, A Single Man continues the annoying Hollywood trend of making homosexual main characters that have no other characteristics aside from their sexuality. All the conflict, events, and many of the characters are simply byproducts of the fact that Colin Firth is gay. I understand that gay people have to deal with persecution and I could never fully understand what they go through, but it's not like every minute of their lives is devoted to the fact that they're gay.
I also believe that directors/writers do this just to draw attention to their movies. If Colin Firth were straight in this movie it wouldn't have received nearly as much critical acclaim and would have been relatively forgotten.
Other than that, and other than solid performances from Firth, Moore etc, this film is a mass of clichés. Man has epiphany after life-changing moment? Check. Early 1960s repressive? Check. Crude connections between conveniently-playing news clips and narrator's interior life? Check. Sexual outlaws drinking too much? Check. Older lonely person has mind-transforming moment with young sexpot? Check. For this kind of thing, American Beauty did a much better (and funnier) job.
This is the sort of film you would show to a high-school class: its issues are crude and simply presented, its actors look great, it's got a few good lines, but ultimately there's not much there to think about.
As far as the "gay theme", this film has made it possible to de-sexualize the theme and to further the insight which was presented in "Milk" to a higher plane.
Firth plays impeccably. Only the scene with the sleeping bag was slightly and unfittingly comical and somewhat distracting.
The main emotional experience for me was a profound sadness. The nostalgia for a perfect match of the mother and the child must be familiar to all of us. Exactly this instinct made the people and the dogs resonate with George's death-bound drive. The more fortunate of us encounter another person, whom we feel such a bliss of joining with; and the potential tragedy of loss.
I'd be very surprised if Colin Firth doesn't win for "Best Actor" in all the awards there are for 2009.
Everyone is telling Colin Firth that he doesn't look well and that he should watch himself. The film centers on one weekend after class. For someone contemplating suicide, Firth alternates via flashbacks with his male lover and meeting a South American hunk at a parking lot.
On Friday afternoon, he lectures his class on Aldous Huxley and fear. I was ready for a Franklin Roosevelt lecture on having nothing to fear but fear itself.
In her brief appearance on screen, Julianne Moore is effective as a lady friend of Firth's. With an authentic British accent, she laments the fact that her husband has left her.
The problem with brooding films is that they lack depth and to be perfectly honest, they become quite boring.
How many college professors have a student over for drinks and a swim? For sure, for Firth and this film, this was certainly a weekend of reawakening and yet in the end, it was a lost weekend.