Single Man, A


Colin Firth and Julianne Moore in 1962 LA

Main Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore

Director: Tom Ford

George Falconer (Firth) is an Englishman in 1962 Los Angeles.  We join the story on a day like any other, except that George is not a man like any other on this day.  He is a gay man who lost his partner of many years and grieves in a lonesome cocoon imposed by society and family.   The film is simple – it’s a day in the life of George.  Just one day.  Sure, George has plans for the day – plans that do not include another day – but he goes about his business in an orderly fashion just the same.  Because that’s George – he fulfills his obligations without question.  He’s a responsible single man.

A Single Man isn’t really about anything at all.  The film is very, very spare.  The details of George’s life are merely framework upon which to hang a picture of grief so vivid, so real and quiet and sad that it makes your heart break.   George’s sexual orientation forms the societal basis for his lonely mourning, but doesn’t define it.  His stoic and reserved approach to life solidifies it and refuses to allow him to seek solace, even when offered.

Firth is magnificent in this role.  Writer/director Tom Ford puts together a screenplay, a period setting and a solemn stillness for the film that leave Firth to embody this man and his feelings and reveal them to us in his own time.  George is besieged by memories of his partner.  They are good memories of happy moments, but they hit like a fist, reminding George of what he has lost.  With each flashback, Firth reels as if having been struck, his breath taken away by the vastness of his lonely, solitary future.  We see it in his eyes; we see it in his posture, in the deep sadness that tinges his every interaction during this single day.  We also see his idiosyncrasies derailing his own plans, as his proper nature foils his attempt to be impulsive.  Those moments are funny without being inappropriate to the mood of the rest of the film.  All involved exhibit the deftest of touches in creating times of lightness for both George and the audience.

The Cast of “A Single Man” in Venice. Photo by nicogenin

Lest I leave the impression that all we do is watch George be sad, I need to give proper acknowledgement to the supporting cast.  Julianne Moore plays Charley, George’s friend and a (long) past lover who doesn’t really accept that the two cannot be a couple again.  Charley has her own troubles, one of them being raging alcoholism, that blind her to the pain in the eyes of her friend and make her selfish and needy.  It’s a good performance, but pales in comparison with the deeply layered George.  Also in the background are a student and a young hustler, both of whom remind George of his past and give him some sort of insight into his present and future.  The parts are minor, serving only as another part of George’s framework, but they are well played by Nicholas Hoult and John Kortajarena.

A Single Man is true to its title -a film about one man, alone by circumstance and personality.  Colin Firth gives an outstanding performance, portraying lonely sadness with such adept subtlety that it feels deep and wide and vast rather than stabbing or shrill.  Though most of us can’t relate to his time or specific issues, we can relate to some part of the man that is George.  Be it loneliness, grief or frustration with the minutia of life – it’s all part of the human condition.  The movie doesn’t have an ounce of fat, paring it all down to pure emotion with only a few sparkling frills to ease the sadness.  The entire production, from costumes, score and set design to the use of faded flashback and Technicolor intoxication, is beautiful, with a core of stillness that allows every emotion time to breathe and live.  Highly recommended – I will never underestimate Colin Firth again after seeing A Single Man.

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