Monday, 1 March 2010

You're Not Even Wearing Any Loafers.

Oh my lordy, how beautiful it was to watch. I pity the poor production designer on A Single Man - can you imagine working on Tom Ford's personally financed debut feature? Seriously, talk about pressure. The man turned around Gucci! He's one of the most celebrated designers on the planet! Well, Ian Phillips and Dan Bishop pulled it off. Seriously, why hasn't the work been more recognised? Too modern? But it's beautiful!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Tom Ford helms A Single Man, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood. Colin Firth plays the lead character of George, a semi-closeted (it's the 1960s, but he's British, so...) English professor in California, whose long term partner Jim (Matthew Goode in flashback) has recently died in a tragic car accident. Crippled in many ways by grief, George forces himself to somehow go on as he prepares his own tragic end. His best friend, another English expat Charley (Julianne Moore), who lives just around the corner, supports him as best she can in her drunken state, holding his hand and reminiscing on old times as she lets slip all too easily her jealousy at George and Jim's relationship and the fact that she never got to play George's Jim substitute.

Meanwhile, George is still teaching, and finds himself drawn to one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who is all too keen to play along. The beautiful Kenny gives just enough to keep George guessing and questioning, before a night when the two discover themselves in George's local bar on a night when George is really struggling. After a quick dip (naked, naturally [and thankfully - Hoult is beautiful]) the two retire to George's house... 

Firth is, quite frankly, incredible. I have never been a true fan of his (I liked him in Bridget Jones, but I think my Firth introduction was marred by having to study the BBC Pride And Prejudice production back in high school and not liking it), but here he completely wins me over. Playing George with a perfect stiff upper lip, a tremendous British closedness, he allows for chinks in his armour to come through only as much and as often as is strictly necessary. When he can be comfortable, he is, but when he has to play professional, it's just a glint in the eye, a quick movement nearing a smile, which makes his succumbing to youthful energy even more poignant and beautiful. His phone conversation is much talked about, and is stupendous, but he maintains this through the entirety of the film to varying extremes, well deserving his Oscar nomination and Volpi Cup. Moore is tremendous, holding Charley at a point of alcoholism that never teeters over into blind drunkenness, retaining her own British stoicism at the same time as you know Charley is yearning to scream from the rooftops. Hoult is perfect, beautiful in the perfect way to be entirely and believably beguiling, flirting just enough to get you hoping but never enough to make you truly have faith in any intention to follow through - his sexuality is never thrust forward, simply touching at the edges and leaving you gasping for more.

Ford's screenplay (with co-writer David Scearce) starts off a little clunky, but smoothes out quickly to become quite stunning, simple yet effective. I don't know how it plays as an adaptation of the book (I will be tracking it down), but the film itself holds itself up. And his direction is perfectly restrained, and plays within the various constraints and freedoms of the design of the film - he is cautious and formal when needed, but isn't afraid to let it rip when Charley comes to town. And that design... it's glorious. From costumes to sets to hair to everything. It is so sumptuous, and the colour palettes so telling. That big glass house that George lives in has been derided as unrealistic by some (why would a gay couple be living in something so exposed? Because they may be discreet, but they're proudly discreet, dammit!) but it fits wonderfully with the characters involved, leaving them seemingly exposed but with plenty of nooks to hide.

It's not quite a perfect film (that initial start with the screenplay detracts a little, and the shifts in colour palette become a little too forced by the end), but it's very close. A wonderful piece of filmmaking, unexpected from Ford, wonderfully acted and allowing for the homos to be human (once again encased in the distance of history so we don't have to believe it is today, but still.) 4.5 stars.

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