A Single Man follows a day in the life of George (Colin Firth), a middle-aged English literature professor in Los Angeles in 1962, who has recently lost his partner (Matthew Goode) of sixteen years to a snowy car accident in Colorado. Based on the book by Christopher Isherwood, it is Tom Ford’s directorial and screenwriting debut. George and some of his OCD tendencies are shown through effectively placed voice-overs, close-ups, heavily saturated flashbacks, and shots that mirror advertisements of the early 1960s as well as Chanel No. 5 perfume commercials.
It’s artsy, but impeccable both visually and aurally: hearing a heart beating, a clock ticking, seeing clocks, and colors instantly brightening the screen from dull to radiant in an instant. Although the perpetual use of close shots is almost dizzying, it is just right for the spellbinding effect without needing Dramamine. George starts off his day with a dream and goes through his typical day: driving to work, going to school, zoning out during his own lectures, drinking and dancing with his best friend from back when he lived in London and going to the local bar for a beer. Falling on the floor after doing the twist and a late night swim are two highlights and new events of the day that George decided was “going to be different”.
The cast includes a British-accented Julianne Moore, Ginnifer Goodwin, Lee Pace and Nicholas Hoult as Kenny, the provocative student who notices that George needs a friend. Although his relationship with his professor is almost fit for a Lifetime movie, he does well as the pretty boy in white jeans on a motorbike. Kenny appears as the messenger of life-reflecting thoughts that only once glitches his American accent (he’s actually British). Moore plays the best friend, jealous of what George used to have with Jim (Goode), and still unsure of what she wants in her wealthy, divorced, and lonely life.
Abel Korzeniowski’s score brilliantly adds to the film with a simplicity and heaviness that matches with a Philip Glass-like minimalism, keeping the film in constant motion and still interesting even for the music geeks. Though sometimes overstated, it gives the film an emotionally rich tone needed to match George’s cluttered and melancholy head, and occasionally fuzzy visuals that doesn’t end up looking like a music video.
As heavy as the plot may be, Ford gives some light, aptly perceived with chuckles—although not exactly memorable, they were certainly appreciated during the film. Firth is fully competent at getting laughs as well as sympathy and pity. He gives a stunning performance able to win the audience with a hint of a dimple and his boyish charm underneath his horn-rimmed glasses—despite his character’s occasional social awkwardness and discomfort.
Firth, the score, and aesthetics exceed the few glitches that fall through the cracks. Ford’s style is truly evident; it’s no question why he’s done so well in the fashion industry before transferring to film, and I hope to see more from him in the future.