A Single Man (2009)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.5

USA, 2009, , .  Screenplay by Tom Ford, , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Tom Ford, the fashion world’s Princess Diana, decides to go entry level in a new medium and chooses film, directing and adapting a screen translation of a Christopher Isherwood novel. The film screams beauty at you from its opening shots, with delicate close-ups and a tidal-wave-level musical score gloriously ringing out as the film tells the tale of a mournful college professor (Colin Firth) whose lover of sixteen years () died months ago in a car accident. Firth does his best to get through his day without letting anyone know his heartbreak, meanwhile his memories take him back, over and over again, to the horrible memories of losing his loved one as well as earlier times when things were good.

A student of Firth’s (, the About A Boy kid who is now all grown up) is using his doe eyes and innocent expression to pursue a little off-hour study time with his literary mentor. His best friend up the road (Julianne Moore) is a boozy divorcee whose entire days are spent drinking and smoking while perfecting her sixties-marvelous eye makeup so that she can look great while drinking and smoking with her best friend in the evening. Ford shows a lot of skill as a visual director, photographing everything within an inch of its life and making every image count: even the wine bottle labels sing loveliness, while the screen’s tint switches from cold melancholy to luscious enervation to display the main character’s emotional shifts, which look like a Vogue magazine shoot come to life.

What’s missing, then, is the passion, as Ford tells us a lot about the story but we never really feel it. There’s too much narration, and too many conversations that are about things not happening on screen (the director, who also co-wrote the screenplay, obviously loved the book too much to really shake it up). The source of the hero’s sadness is sympathetic in theory, but the emotional response you have to a movie like The Hours, which this one is aiming to be a male version of, never really happens. Firth’s scenes with Moore are the film’s best, the two of them throwing their frustrations at each other and actually making sparks fly:  it’s the only notable time that something is actually happening instead of being discussed. What a shame that in a gay romance movie it’s the battle of the opposite sexes that really sells it, as scenes of loveliness between Firth and Goode happen too little and too late to make a comparative impression.

The acting is extremely good, with Firth showing more vulnerable emotion than he’s displayed in a long time, and Moore revealing the ugly side to Patsy Stone on Ab Fab, and while the film’s physical beauty doesn’t amount to depth or importance, it is definitely nice to see a film so dedicated to aesthetic perfection.

Academy Award NominationBest Actor (Colin Firth)

Golden Globe Award Nominations:  Best Actor-Drama (Colin Firth); Best Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore); Best Original Score

Screen Actors Guild Award NominationBest Actor (Colin Firth)

Toronto International Film Festival:  1999

Venice Film Festival Award:  Best Actor (Colin Firth)


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