It’s a good thing first-time director Tom Ford—yes, the fashion designer—cast Colin Firth as the lead in A Single Man. That meant Firth could be left to carry the movie, while Ford got on with making the cinematic equivalent of a fashion magazine spread. Or perhaps Ford deliberately chose Firth so he, the director, wouldn’t have to worry about niggling little things like story and character, leaving such nonsense to his more-than-capable star.
Whatever the case, see this alternately moving and frustrating film if only for Firth, who would ascend to A-level status after this if there were any justice.
This intimate drama only works as well as it does because he is so compelling, plausible and heartbreaking as a college professor named George in early 1960s Los Angeles, mourning the death of his longtime partner (Matthew Goode) at a time when such relationships were barely acknowledged, never mind tolerated.
This day-in-the-life tale, based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, starts out coolly elegant, the stylish imagery in balance with Firth’s delicate performance as he navigates another awful day, months after his lover’s passing. George, an unexpectedly passionate Englishman lost among brash Southern Californians, contends with a student (Nicholas Hoult) who’s making advances and might portend a new beginning for the professor, and an old friend (Julianne Moore) who may not be as fully sympathetic to his pain as she appears at first.
Eventually, though, we come to see that Ford is happy to let a cacophony of dissonant visual guises overpower all else. It’s a shame, because Firth and Goode are one of the most wonderfully romantic couples the screen has ever seen, which makes the grief all the more tragic. Too bad Ford wasn’t able to let the grim beauty of it all speak for itself.
A SINGLE MAN
Colin Firth Julianne Moore Matthew Goode