Monday, February 14, 2011

Movie Monday: A Single Man

This week's movie is Tom Ford's directorial debut, 2010's A Single Man.

Paraphrased from IMDb:
It's November 30, 1962. Expatriate Brit George Falconer, an English professor at a Los Angeles area college, is finding it difficult to cope with life. Jim, his partner of sixteen years, died in a car accident eight months earlier when he was visiting with family. Jim's family were not going to tell George of the death or accident let alone allow him to attend the funeral. This day, George has decided to get his affairs in order before he will commit suicide that evening. As he routinely and fastidiously prepares for the suicide and post suicide, George reminisces about his life with Jim. But George spends this day with various people, who see a man sadder than usual and who affect his own thoughts about what he is going to do. Those people include Carlos, a Spanish immigrant/aspiring actor/hustler recently arrived in Los Angeles; Charley, his best friend who he knew from England, a drama queen of a woman who romantically desires her best friend despite his sexual orientation; and Kenny Potter, one of his students, who seems to be curious about his professor beyond English class.

My review: A Single Man stars Colin Firth, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult and Julianne Moore. It's a movie that changes you and stays with you for days afterward, ruminating over the people and relationships George moves through in the course of a day in his life. Charlotte - who was a mystery even to Jim, as we see in one of the several flashback scenes - is a bit pathetic, holding on to decades-old hope that George might reciprocate the feelings she has for him. George's students are surprised, but mostly unmoved, by the intensity he shows when talking about society's perceptions of minorities.

Tom Ford takes a light hand, employing subtlety in many scenes rather than playing them out or spoonfeeding viewers every detail. For instance, when George gets the call from Jim's cousin about the accident that has taken Jim's life, it's not necessary that we see every second of his grief in the days following. It's enough to watch George attempt to take in the news in the first seconds after the call ends, then briefly follow his frantic, stumbling journey to Charlotte's house a block or two away. We don't need to hear George tell her what's happened - the brief look wordless anguish on his face and the horror on hers is enough before briefly cutting back to the present day. George doesn't need to say that he now hates answering the phone.

I think it's the subtleties, the things left unsaid, that have stayed with me in the numerous times I've watched it. Little details like moving from the usual faintly sepia-toned scene to several seconds of saturated colour when something truly makes contact with George's consciousness - it's a very illusive change, almost imperceptible, but when you realize it's happening it's so profound. Finally, my favourite parts of the movie are the flashbacks to George's life with Jim. Some cover pivotal events like the night they met; some reflect on moments of commonplace domesticity - spending an evening reading quietly together and bickering about whose turn it is to change the record when the music ends.

I can't say enough about this movie, perhaps with the exception of Julianne Moore. While she played Charlotte well - the ennui and longing for what her life could have been - she was an unconvincing Brit. It would have been quite a bit more seamless if the character was American. Colin Firth, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Kortajarena and especially Matthew Goode are superb. Jim - cheerful, wry and confident in himself and his love for George - is unquestionably my favourite character and Matthew Goode plays him beautifully.

A Single Man gets 9.5/10 from me.

1 comment:

sunystone said...

Fantastic review Katie! Jim is also my favorite character in this film, and your thoughts about this film mirror mine. You must have read my mind LOL!