Tom Ford’s heartbreakingly poetic film debut “A Single Man,” a cinematic high-point of this year now available on DVD, has almost nothing to do with being gay. It does, however, have everything to do with being human.
Colin Firth delivers a career-best performance, and wears the role as perfectly as one of his dapper suits, as a middle-aged professor mourning the death of his longtime partner (Matthew Goode). All in a day, as George sinks into suicidal despair, he bonds with a doting student, hangs with his washed-up confidante and sees life anew through the family next door. But even to them, he must repress his grief … this is, after all, 1962: Homosexual, huh?
Renewal is just one of many aspects marking “A Single Man,” an affecting cannonball that’s a resonant reminder to cherish life’s small gifts, to live fully and to let go. The acting is tiptop, with Firth – notably when he learns of his lover’s death, erupting in one of the film’s most wrenching scenes – nailing every nuance of George’s misery. Just as ravishing, and in a much briefer role, is the luminous Julianne Moore as the boozy beauty Charley, George’s bohemian best friend who’s still pining for him. Even Goode, in a only a few fleeting flashback scenes that gives his relationship with George depth and meaning, and Nicholas Hoult, as George’s concerned student, never feel wasted.
“A Single Man” is executed like the perfect crime, with the utmost consideration given to all aspects of the feature, but especially to, and definitely not surprisingly given Ford’s fashion design credentials, the visual juxtaposition of the piece. His treatment of the film, based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, is remarkably as chic as a fashion spread, transitioning between dull neutrals and Technicolor splashes to reflect George’s lifeless existence and the beaming world around him. If it sounds jarring, it is – but so is the sudden onset of grief. Through Ford’s aesthetic eyes, “A Single Man” is granted panache that makes it feel more like a museum piece than a movie.
Ford gives the lowdown on the art direction during the solo commentary (cast interviews are included on the making-of featurette), spieling on personal inspirations and first-time director travails. As if it wasn’t enough to fawn over one of the sexiest voices of all time, he actually shares neat bits: his hands were used when George scribes his suicide notes (because Ford wasn’t a fan of Firth’s writing), he made a piece of wall art in Charley’s place (he paints, too?!), some lines were lifted from his own life, and he threw in a nod to “The Wizard of Oz.” With “A Single Man,” that’s about as gay as it gets.