(One singular sensation.)
Starring Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode and Nicholas Hoult. Directed by Tom Ford. 99 minutes. PG2009 brought us two supremely sad, bespectacled fictional professors: the spiritually screwed father figure of The Coen Bros’ A Serious Man
and the closeted mourner of A Single Man.
While both movies were brilliant in their own ways (both received Oscar noms, for Best Pic and Director and Best Actor, respectively), the latter of the two deserves the title of Man of the Year.
A Single Man brings us into a day in the life of George (Colin Firth), a middle-aged man from the 1960s who not long ago lost his life partner, Jim (Matthew Goode, Leap Year) to a car accident. We see him wake-up, get dressed, make breakfast, go to work at a local college, dodge flirty students, and have dinner with his best friend (the always awesome Julianne Moore). It all seems very normal at first, but every mundane moment become tragic as we learn that George has chosen this day to let his life go.
The bittersweet story is supported beautifully by Firth’s near-flawless performance. One minute he’s rapped up in a monochrome memory, his eyes blank and his heart half-full of lost love. The next, he’s smiling, trying to appease an acquaintance who knows nothing of his pain, or his lifestyle – a colleague, curious child at the bank. George is broken, tortured, conflicted and painfully absent – a lost little boy trapped in the body of a well-coiffed and welcoming teacher – and it fits him like the perfectly altered suit he wants to be buried in.
We’ve never really seen Firth play outside the standard bumbling-yet-lovable Brit dork he’s perfected in rom-coms like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Love, Actually. It’s refreshing to him exploring actions other than looking around awkwardly, shuffling his feet and mumbling (Let’s hope this a sign of things to come). If only the Academy had put the same faith in him come voting time. Firth deserved a golden guy in this moment because. unlike the other nominees, who played versions of themselves in uncharacteristic situations (sorry, Jeff), he really moved out his comfort zone, making George’s heartbreak seem like his own.
Firth is not the only overwhelmingly impressive aspect of A Single Man. The cinematography provides a perfect backdrop for George’s ever-changing emotional state. Director and fashion icon Tom Ford plays with contrasts and colour manipulations like a pro, making you wonder if this really was his first foray into film. For instance, he warms up the scene when George interacts with peers, friends and students and tones down the color when George is alone and reflecting on his unfortunate past. It’s gorgeously done but subtle enough to seem natural, and all the more devastating. There’s one particular wide-shot that will stay with you for days. Ford cuts to a psychedelic photo of a woman screaming and stays there for a few moments. It’s discomforting and discombobulating, until we see a car pull in front of it and realize it is just a poster for Psycho. Genius.
But before you rush out to rent a copy, let me just say A Single Man is not for everyone. It’s slow-building and character-driven, which will bore anyone who goes to the movies to escape their own troubled life and gawk at overdone explosions. But for those of us who go the theatre looking to learn something about life, death and how we deal with both, it will likely be one of the single most engaging movies we’ve seen in a long time. AEXTRAS: A making-of doc and a commentary by Ford