Tom Ford's directorial debut, A Single Man, is reminiscent of one of the designer's Gucci suits: beautiful, expensive-looking, sumptuous — but lacking the impeccable tailoring that he's known for. However, it's a solid effort from Ford, who has gathered all the right elements, including a talented cast led by Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.
The film is set in 1960s LA, where college professor George (Firth) is grieving after losing his boyfriend of 16 years, Jim, to a car accident. Eight months after Jim's death, the movie depicts a day in George's life as he struggles to keep it together without his partner.
Ford is ambitious as a filmmaker, and I wouldn't expect anything less from him. It's clear that he wants A Single Man to succeed on all levels of cinema — performance, aesthetics, story. It's over-the-top though; too arty, too pretentious, too desperate to be rewarded (the dialogue-free trailer alone is reaching). But it's not bad for a first project, and there's a lot to appreciate, so to hear my thoughts on the film, just read more.
The two cornerstones of the film are the acting and the visual landscape. First, I'm a firm believer that Firth can do anything, as can Moore, who plays the eccentric friend in love with George. The film almost demands overacting from them, though; Firth shows grief in every scene, in every way imaginable, in every second of his day. He can handle it, but it's exhausting. And Moore is mostly just having fun with her narcissistic character, an alcoholic who has passed her prime. Showing more restraint is Matthew Goode as George's departed love. Seen in flashbacks, Jim and George's relationship is shown with quiet tenderness. It's a welcome reprieve from George's tortured expressions, and my favorite part of the movie.
The aesthetic value of A Single Man is its other cache, but like the acting, it often goes too far. Some actors are purely eye candy — not that that's a problem, but Ford gives you so many shots of the same sensual images, such as Nicholas Hoult's lips. Hoult (the boy from About a Boy, who is all grown up, to say the least) is a student with nebulous intentions, and the gratuitous lip-shots hit you over the head with the message that he's seductive. It's a technique Ford overuses; a drowning, naked Firth is constantly shown as a visual metaphor for George's grief. Ford is determined to make you recognize how beautiful his film looks, and for his next outing as director, I'd love to see some more subtlety.
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Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company