A Single Man

A lot of people have been talking about A Single Man as an important film.
I’ve learned to be cautious in any expectations of a film, and this was no exception.While the film has gotten generally good reviews, I was quite disappointed. The film is an achievement of sorts, the same way some music videos capture a certain spirit or sensibility. But ultimately this film is all about Tom Ford and his sensibilities. Ford’s sensibilities as a fashion designer are prevalent in every aspect of the production and costume design. There is no subtly, and style and I felt that so much exacting fashion overwhelmed the film.
Make no mistake, he does these things very well and they add to the film in many ways, but excessive. The story was originally about an average middle class man, but there is nothing average in this film.The real strength of the film are it’s leads, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, and they are both are really wonderful.

Firth is more handsome than ever and his restrained performance will likely earn him numerous awards. Personally, I felt he was being directed to be overly maudlin and it didn’t feel authentic.

Moore is a vision of 60s stylish decadence… WAY over the top, but truly stunning to witness. The two also have a nice chemistry. The sequence where they dance together is one of the visual highlights of the whole film. Extremely memorable.Every frame is a set piece, and every detail in every shot is hyper—stylized. In this regard the film really is well crafted and art directed, but the actors become part of that scenery too and that costs the film any emotional connection the audience may have.It’s all too perfect. No one had such a complete and perfect material life as is portrayed. I can appreciate the stylization to a certain extent, but it needs some imperfections to be believable, and unfortunately everything is too new, too exact… not a single thing is out of place.

I suppose you could look at it as a nostalgic love letter to the illusion we have come to believe was the quintessential everyday life of the early 60s, but it could have easily been so much more than that.
Every person in the film is achingly beautiful, perfectly groomed and dressed as if they are going to their own wedding or about to walk a runway. After a time it becomes caricature. Felliniesque even. Even when they are mussed, they are mussed just so…
To younger audience members who are not aware of how much this is over done it may appear like devotional tribute to those times. To those who know better and tire easily at overwrought nostalgia, it can appear farcical.Ford does come close however at one point to really pulling it all together and out of the cliché pit, then he does something SO ridiculous, so cheesy (in my opinion) that it sinks the whole thing.************SPOILER ALERT***********

Like the book, In the last scene with the young student, George’s will to live is restored, but Ford takes the unnecessary step of actually having George die of a heart attack rather than go through the stream-of-conscious “what-if” approach that the book takes. And of course it is a spectacle. OH THE IRONY, THE TIMING!    OH, PLEASE!

It was bad enough for him to be forlornly carting around a gun all day, but this was too much.

I thought the heart attack sequence diminished the film, reducing it to a melodramatic cliche.

Ford simply tried too hard. WAY to hard.
All the scenes where George is alone almost all the color is drained from the scene, then when there are flashbacks to his perfectly fit handsome young lover everything is saturated and bright and full of color. This happens all through the film.

Emotionally everything is behind a wall of artifice, which is a shame. The characters feel distant, everything is played too precious and overly sentimental. Too many lingering pained expressions, too many PROFOUND comments, too many ironic incidents and lots of unbelievable behavior that is supposed to be every-day routine.
Almost nothing of his daily routine feels authentic. In the book this provided the momentum… in the film these details are reduced to flourishes of self pity.

If Ford had only art directed the film and someone more well seasoned was in the directors chair it could have been a masterpiece. He made a valiant effort.

It is beautiful to look at and is composed and acted lovingly. It really just needs a little dirty realism to ground it.

A note on the marketing of the film:
both posters play up the relationship between Moore and Firth, making it look as if it could be a straight romantic drama.
Firth actually was responsible for demanding that he appear on the reissue of the book alone, which is admirable, since the story is about accepting loss.
I would suggest to anyone really interested in this to read Isherwoods original novel. It is short, rich in subtle detail and is very moving.

Comments are closed.