Fashion designer Tom Ford makes his directorial debut with this period drama, adapted from a Christopher Isherwood novel. It's Nov. 30, 1962, and 52-year-old English professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) has decided not to go on; his gay lover of 16 years has died in a car accident some months earlier. Falconer, ever fastidious, spends the day routinely, while reminiscing about the past and prepping for that night's suicide.
A Single Man is primarily a character study, though, to a young person's eyes, much of the contextual material will be historically dated. This isn't a melodramatic, high-pitched weepie; instead, the relatively airy film thrums with languid sadness.
Firth is simply grand: His understated performance conveys all of Falconer's miseries --unresolved grief, self-pity, anger -- while furiously maintaining his facade of dignified normalcy. There are small exquisite moments where Firth reveals the frayed patches on Falconer's impeccably tailored shield. (In one such moment, he made me cry by describing a dog as smelling like "buttered toast.")
As one might expect from Ford, the film is stylishly directed and beautifully framed. (Likewise nearly every object and character in this film seems both perfect and perfectly placed.) At times, the camera simply lingers on Falconer, his daily chores and household objects. Ford, though, often uses such pensive moments to initiate flashbacks, and there are moments when his artiness is clumsy or heavy-handed.
And while the hothouse effect Ford generates is somewhat distancing – I was frequently distracted by another stunning bit of set design -- it does help set A Single Man in a more forgiving genre: the stylized drama, as personal as its conflicted subject. Manor