“A Single Man” is an indie sparkler about love, loss, friendship and the deceptively ordinary blips that make up one’s everyday go at the world.
Though it sometimes has you thinking that you’re watching a magazine spread brought to life, the film delivers impressively in the emotional arena, deriving dramatic propulsion from simple human encounters and featuring a terrific central performance.
The film is the directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, who, along with David Scaearce, adapted the screenplay from Christopher Isherwood’s novel.
Smallish but deserving of prime attention among end-of-the-year fare, the movie has merit as both a gay film and a holiday-season humanity tale as it presents the story of a midlife professor struggling to fit into a future without his longtime love.
Set in Los Angeles in 1962, days of the Cuban missile crisis, beehive hair, and relationships lived in secret, the drama takes us through a typical day with George Falconer (Colin Firth), a refined British literary professor who is depressed in the wake of the car-crash death of his longtime partner, Jim (Matthew Goode).
George functions but displays little spark as he speaks to his housekeeper, waves to neighbors, and interacts with colleagues and students.
Ford combines this material with flashbacks of George’s happy past with Jim. He also weaves in an unfolding suicide plan (not in Isherwood’s book). Uplifting encounters with best friend and former lover Charlie (Julianne Moore) and admiring student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) cause George to be in little hurry to pull the trigger, however.
Everybody seems to have a killer wardrobe, designer abode or definitive 1960s hairstyle, and Ford’s artfulness — which includes the use of saturated colors when George experiences something meaningful — isn’t always fresh.
But when filling the space with human current, and simply letting his actors go to work, Ford delivers a stirring filmmaking debut.
Wonderful moments fill the movie, from a flashback of George and Jim reading books on a cozy couch to an oddball scene in which George sniffs the fur of a stranger’s dog because it reminds him of Jim’s pooch. The George-Charlie interactions are a kick and sometimes electrifying look at old friends with complicated ties.
Firth — whose credits range from Mr. Darcy to “Mamma Mia” — subtlety but powerfully registers a wealth of emotional shades on his face, which Ford presents in numerous deserved close-ups. Moore, too, shines. Her boozy Charlie is showier than Firth’s George, but similarly riveting.
A Single Man
Starring Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult
Written by Tom Ford, David Scaearce
Directed by Tom Ford
Running time 1 hour 39 minutes