A Single Man * * * *

12 01 2010

“It’s not as good as the book.” We all know what this sentence means – we’ve all said it before when comparing a movie to its original book form. When A Single Man, Tom Ford’s directorial debut, first premiered a few months ago, I read a scathing review that dismissed the film almost entirely on the liberties that Mr. Ford took with the material. This comparison is useless I’ve learned. If you read Watchmen before seeing the movie, you’ll know what I mean. Not that it wasn’t true to the graphic novel. On the contrary. It was too loyal to the material. That whole book was on the screen and it bordered on unbearable. We’ve got to realize that these are two separate mediums and an artist has to make the material all his own. I for one am doing my best to be done with this fruitless “ugh! It sucked! They totally changed the ending! So not cool” mumbo jumbo. Tom Ford has made one hell of a beautiful picture – not just on an aesthetic plane, but in his way of understanding what it means to truly love someone, and even more so, what it feels like to grieve.

The movie takes place on November 30, 1962 – the day that Colin Firth, a college English professor, decides to end his life after deciding he can no longer handle grieving over the loss of his lover of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode). The film guides us through his unfaltering resolution to kill himself. He buys bullets for his gun, which he carries around with him all day in his perfect suitcase, he takes out his trust and insurance policies out of his safety deposit box, writes a goodbye letter to the one friend he has left in the world, and even leaves a wad of cash for his housekeeper. It seems there’s no doubt that he’s actually going to go through with it. He’s presented with so much love and so much life throughout the whole day and yet, he doesn’t flinch – not after dinner and drinks with his best friend Charlotte (Julianne Moore) or when his stunningly beautiful student Kenny (Nicholaus Hoult) reaches out to him because he looks like he needs a friend, or even when both he and the audience witness a beautiful Spanish male prostitute experiences love at first sight at the look of him. But the movie is not without levity. There’s definitely some humor sprinkled throughout; moments that make you smile, but mainly it’s moments of wonder and just awe at how beautiful this film is. It’s not boring for a minute, but I wouldn’t say the pace is infectious. Actually, Mr. Ford gets just a little teeny tiny bit carried away with his poetic license. At times, it really is a little bit of a self-suck extravaganza, but you forgive him for it because at least the man is consistent. The art direction is…well, artsy artsy artsy, the music is heartbreaking and Colin Firth’s performance, at least to me, is the best male performance of 2009. It hurts to take the title away from The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner, but there’s just no denying that the man knocked it out of the park.

Ford was obviously influenced by the 1970s Italian adaptation of Death in Venice – the music even sounds like Gustav Mahler’s 4th Movement: Adagietto which plays throughout Death in Venice. But mostly, it reminded me of one of my all time favorite movies, The Hours, another movie that wraps its arms around itself in its depression. So I like sad movies. Sue me. Not going to lie: you’re going to walk out of the theater feeling as if you yourself have just gone through the grieving process itself. It’s a rhapsodic experience through and through, but it leaves you feeling emotionally exhausted. I can’t wait to see it again.