MOVIE REVIEW: A Single Man

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There are times when a film is so anticipated that it can be a disappointment. When Little Children was receiving its Oscar buzz in 2006 I fled to my nearest bookstore and purchased the book. To my delight, I loved it. When I finally saw the film, however, I hated it. This also brings about the problem of adaptation where the book is often always better than the film. For A Single Man I did the same – I quickly read the novel by Christopher Isherwood and fell in love with it. The film adaptation directed by Tom Ford, I am happy to report, is just as attractive and touching – if not more so than the novel.

Deborah Young with The Hollywood Reporter says: “Most of the action takes place over the course of a single day in Los Angeles in the early ’60s, when being gay was socially disapproved. The film brushes ever so lightly on the issue of discrimination…” This distinction is important for the film and filmgoers. Many audiences may be surprised and disappointed by the gay subject matter of the film (thanks to the Weinstein Company’s heterosexually overwrought trailer), but one must note that the homosexuality is almost unimportant. There is no preaching of the acceptance of homosexuality, but instead a certain modernism exists. In 1962 homosexuality was much different – and almost unapparent – compared to today. Like the novel, homosexuality is not an issue. The script depicts it as just there.

It seems the reviews do not have any singularity to them. As I shift from one review (from the New York Times) to another (Roger Ebert) they continually pick on the visual richness of the film. indieWIRE fully agrees, stating: “…viewers who are totally cool with the gay themes still may be turned off by an 105 minute hybrid of moving painting and perfume commercial.” This is an ignorant exaggeration. It seems – since last saw the film – that nearly half was made up of intense close-ups of various images: a beautiful, blooming flower; a Latino man exhaling his cigarette smoke; a pair of eyes staring into the camera. If this is agitating to an audience member, I would simply tell them that they do not understand the film. The depiction of beauty is the message of the film: something so little, like one’s eyes looking into yours, can be so effective and significant. George travels through his day silent, quiet, and perceptive. He is an observer and discoverer of the beauty in his life, no matter how small.

What each review collectively respects are the performances of the film, specifically Colin Firth, whom many of you only recognize as love interests in Bridget Jones’ Diary and Mamma Mia. From Manohla Darvis of NY Times: “…the director knows how to exploit his actor’s reserve to terrific effect, as when he sets the camera in front of Mr. Firth’s face in one critical scene and just lets the machine record the tremors of emotion cracking the facade.” Indeed, Firth is exceptional as George. He goes about his day with such reserve. When you look into his face you almost know what he’s thinking, but not quite. When he interacts with his student, Mr. Potter (Nicholas Hoult), George’s face comes alive. Julianne Moore is incredibly playful and dramatic with her role as George’s intimate best friend, and Matthew Goode’s role as George’s dead lover, Jim, brightens each flashback with a love one can only wish to have (and for those who have it, may not appreciate it as much as the camera).

“Fashion is very fleeting. Film lasts forever. And I think that a film should challenge you. I think a film should make you think. And if I can get the audience to leave the theater and think: ‘Wow. I need to pay more attention to my day…” then I think the film will have meant something.” And it means so much more than I believed it would. There has only been one “film” to churn my mind like A Single Man. I say “film” because it is the HBO miniseries Angels in America. Also set in the past, it raises so many questions for its audience through incredibly writing, acting, and cinematography. I have seen it so much that I know it word for word. Although I am familiar with each character’s words, I discover something new each time I watch: the symbolism, the setting, the tone, etc. A Single Man holds this magnificence as well.

Isherwood’s novel contains such immense beauty in every word, and Ford has brought these into a witty, handsome script. But Ford has also translated these words into images and created a masterpiece. When a film like this comes along it is impossible to become obsessed; there is such attention to detail that your eyes and mind wish to gain an understanding for it all. I can only hope this film will receive its appropriate Academy Award statues – Best Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography – but I have a feeling it will only receive it in nominations.

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About the Author ()

I'm an entertainment fiend. I love everything about television (from reality to prime-time soaps) and film (from documentary to film noir).

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