Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel forms the basis of fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, an exactingly constructed, mostly well acted period piece drama about a broken man who, in the wake of his longtime companion’s death, can scarcely see any sort of future on the horizon.
Set in Los Angeles in 1962, A Single Man, centers on George Falconer (Colin Firth), a 52-year-old British college professor struggling to find meaning after the sudden death of his boyfriend Jim (Matthew Goode). George is consoled, if rather brusquely, by his closest friend, Charley (Julianne Moore), a 48-year-old Tanqueray depository wrestling with her own questions about the future. As George ponders suicide, a young student coming to terms with his own true nature, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), feels in George a kindred spirit, and makes it a point to reach out to him.
On a certain level, A Single Man seems to posit that isolation and loneliness is an inescapable and inherent part of the human condition, which makes the performance of Hoult (About a Boy), who communicates in batted eyelashes and seems a little too cutesy-pinup to pull off the necessary emotional maturity required in his increasing flirtations with his teacher, additionally problematic. Kenny comes across as an idealized angel ripped from the pages of some Calvin Klein ad, and not someone that George would be interested in, particularly given what we see of his relationship with Jim.
There’s also a bit of fussiness in some of the art direction, and by the time the third symbolic underwater sequence comes along, it feels a bit much. Still, Firth is absolutely excellent, and deserving of a Best Actor Oscar nomination, which should be a mortal lock. In almost single-handed fashion, he makes A Single Man worth seeing. (The Weinstein Company, R, 99 minutes)