Film Review: A Single Man (2009)


An exquisitely melancholic adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same name, A Single Man spends one day in the life of a depressed, middle-aged, gay, English professor living in 1960s Los Angeles. Deeply mourning the death of his younger partner, Jim (Mathew Goode), who died in a car accident eight months earlier, George Falconer (Colin Firth) decides to commit suicide. As he goes about his day, quietly settling his affairs before he intends to take his life in the evening, George views the world around him in a hypersensitive way, picking up on details like the colour of a little girl’s dress or the scent of a particular breed of terrier (“buttered toast”). He has subtext-laden conversations with a very forward, young student (Nicholas Hoult) and visits his best friend and former lover Charley (Julianne Moore), dropping truths but never revealing his final plan for the day. All along, he is reminded of moments he shared with Jim, such as their first meeting at a crowded bar and a quiet evening at home shortly before Jim’s death. The film’s twist ending is surprising and utterly heartbreaking.

A Single Man is fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut and it displays his signature polish and style in the use of period-appropriate details in costuming and set design, from the perfectly crisp suits worn by the men to the impeccable eyeliner seen on all the women. George’s mid-century house is a beautiful, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired, wood and glass haven. Adding some extra elements from his own life, including such small details like the smooth fox terriers owned by George and Jim, Ford draws parallels between Isherwood’s story and his own, particularly his May-December relationship with partner Richard Buckley.

The male gaze is subverted by the homosexual elements inherent in the story and by the filmmaker as the camera lingers over the faces and bodies of glistening, nude or near-nude males (Spanish supermodel Jon Kortajarena makes a very welcome appearance as a tempting rent boy) while also appreciating the pristine beauty of perfectly made-up women like Charley in her evening finery. Other themes, such as the near-invisible status of men like George, the passing of time (clocks and their ticking are a repeated motif), the process of aging, and the Cuban missile crisis, loom heavily in the background and add layers to the story.

Colin Firth, looking arguably his most dapper (until spy flick Kingsman came out in 2015), absolutely nails the role of George, bringing out the maturity and loneliness of a middle-aged man stricken by loss and grief in the conflicted times of the 1960s.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bottles of Tanqueray gin

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