A SINGLE MAN is ‘George Falconer’ (Colin Firth), Brit ex-pat, a professor teaching English literature at a college in southern California. As the world balances on a knife edge during 1962s Cuban Missile Crisis, George has his own personal existential crisis, brought on by the devastating loss of his beloved longtime partner ‘Jim’ (Matthew Goode), eight months back, victim of a car crash. Old friend ‘Charley’ (Julianne Moore) can’t ease his crushed spirit, and interest from a young student (Nicholas Hoult) offers but a brief respite.
“Living in the past is my future.”
From 2007, fashion designer Tom Ford’s first go at directing (he also produced and co-wrote) was in adapting Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel. Reviews were mostly positive, with even the naysayers praising Firth’s superb performance, which earned him his first Oscar nomination as Best Actor (he won next year for The King’s Speech). Whether the best lines in the script come from Isherwood, or were inserted by Ford or co-screenwriter David Scearce is up for grabs, but Firth’s pin-drop gift for nuance makes every one he’s given tell a diamond sliver of truth.
“Looking in the mirror staring back at me isn’t so much a face as the expression of a predicament.“
Ford’s precise-cut direction has the faultless costumes and gone-to-heaven art direction given extra-careful consideration, although at times the mood arrangement skirts being so fastidious you find yourself looking for anachronisms, and sure enough, in the props, expressions and timeline you can detect a number. The gentlemanly spiral towards a self-chosen exit is also accompanied by a melancholy soundtrack background from Abel Korzeniowski that’s perhaps a wee insistent, in particular doubling down with operatic arias, courtesy Shigeru Umebayashi.
Quiffs aside, George’s ‘and now?’ dilemma and crucible, while particular to his circumstances, orientation and point in time, are also universal, poignant enough to touch anyone exhausted from battling alienation or from loss so profound and deep that the only escape from suffering appears to lie in self-erasure.
Though Brokeback Mountain (period-set/gay romance/ heartbreaker) had been a big hit crossover two years earlier, the subject matter and mood of this essay into hushed agony was still not any sure bet for mainstream monetary success in 2007. Good reviews and Firth’s nomination only went so far: it placed just 145th in the States. Yet the $7,000,000 Ford invested did nonetheless evince a sympathetic international response that came to $24,965,000.
Practically a co-star, the swank modernist home George lives in was not a set but a real house, The Schaffer Residence, built in 1949, in Glendale, California, by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s disciples, architect John Lautner.
With Jon Kortajarena, Ryan Simpkins, Ginnifer Goodwin, Lee Pace, Aline Weber (sporting a Bardot-suggestive hairstyle). 99 minutes.