Note: “popcorn” is my tag for movie reviews. “Bookworm” is for books, and “Culture Cat” for all things performing arts or visual (like art galleries): CSO, BalletMet, Broadway Across America, etc.
And—THERE. ARE. SPOILERS.
Before we start, you need to know:
I. love. Colin. Firth.
Like so many girls, it began with the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice. And this also started my enduring love affair with Jane. Colin was the perfect Mr. Darcy and no one—no one—in my mind could be better. (I consider the Keira Knightley version blasphemous to the Austen canon and prefer to think it does not exist.)
So, with my love for Colin, I knew I simply must see his award-winning and Oscar nominated turn in A Single Man, directed by fashioner designer-turned-director Tom Ford.
A Single Man is the story of George, a lit professor (Firth) that is mourning the loss of his 16 year partner, Jim (Matthew Goode, in a wonderful supporting role). For months he has painfully gone through his life, but, on this November day, he has decided to do something about it. He is going to end his life, and commit suicide that evening.
We see snippets of George and Jim’s life together in LA, interspersed with scenes from the present day—Jim and George buying their house, George teaching a class (very distractedly), Jim and George on a beach, talking about how George met Charlie. The flashbacks are well done and not at all jarring to the storyline; in fact, they provide needed back ground and give Goode something to do in what could’ve been a very small part. (Which would have been a shame, because Goode is a fine, very genuine actor who works very well with Firth.)
The day progresses—Kenny, a student in George’s class seems unusually taken with him. George goes to buy gin for Charlie’s dinner party, and meets another man, with whom he shares cigarettes and a fleeting attraction. Before going to Charlie’s, he prepares his house, with his life insurance, money, and notes spread out on his desk.
At Charlie’s, the two have dinner, and Charlie insinuates that George wasn’t truly in love with Jim—he was afraid of being in love with her. George shouts that 16 years aren’t nothing—he truly did love Jim, no matter what anyone thinks.The chemistry between the two is obvious, and Charlie definitely still has feelings for George.
Charlie is supposed to be British—the two met in London—but Moore’s accent goes in and out, which leads to a lack of believablity and draws the viewer out of the scene, making it very obvious she is acting. Moore is, in most other films, a brilliant actress, but her problems here with the accent undermine her usually solid performance.
George returns home, and tries to commit suicide, but cannot do it. Frustrated, he goes to the bar where he met Jim (here we have a nice flashback to that Post WWII night—Jim was in the Navy) and orders Lucky Strikes and scotch to go. He is about to leave when Kenny appears at the door. The two share some scotch and, in a reenactment of the night he met Jim, go swimming in the moonlight Pacific.
Back at George’s, Kenny falls asleep in the couch and George goes to bed—without trying to commit suicide. He places the gun back in the drawer on top of his pocket squares (needless to say, the costumes and set design are fabulous.). As he falls asleep, he has a heart attack.
Overall, the film is very good. Firth is a revelation. For someone who has made a career out of being every woman’s sensitive-yet-manly perfect man, this is a real change of direction for him, and he does it well. He brings his knack for vulnerable sensitivity to the role so well that George’s pain is truly palpable in the early scenes. The scenes between him and Goode are warm and believable. But I felt the best scene was when George is informed—via a phone call from Jim’s cousin—about Jim’s death in a car accident. George, already shocked and shattered, is told that the funeral is for ‘family only.’ After the call ends, the camera focuses on George’s face, where silent tears stream down his cheeks. It’s a visceral moment for both actor and audience.
Ford does a good job adapting Christopher Isherwood’s novel, but some might find the storytelling jarring. The viewer isn’t precisely sure where the film is set: in the beginning, the only person we see—or hear—is Firth, so one could assume it’s Britain. There is a mention of snow—Jim’s car crash occurred on snowy and icy roads—so the assumption of Britain may be off. It isn’t until further in the movie that we are told the characters live in LA, and that Charlie and George are British ex-pats. It might have been easier if the setting had been established more immediately; it definitely would have made the storytelling more effortless.
The music is minimal and appropriate, usually strings, without much sturm un drang. The effects are minimal (although the opening scene of the car accident, and the underwater shots, are quite nice), and the costumes, scenery and props are just fantastic. Everything is done with great attention to detail, from George’s car to Moore’s outlandish 60s eye make-up.
The movie was only in limited release, but I hope it finds a wider audience on DVD. Firth’s acting is often overlooked, but for this role he received much deserved critical acclaim, and his first Oscar nomination. I hope those that are unfamiliar with his work will find new reasons to watch him, and that those who have been long time fans will enjoy this new dramatic turn in his career.