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 gay companion’s death, can scarcely see any sort of future on the horizon. It hangs on a superb performance from Colin Firth, and features a few stirring moments of quiet, aching melancholy — the sort of private, swallowed pain that is infrequently attempted and even less successfully captured on screen in Hollywood studio fare — but isn’t quite a gobsmacked-level dramatic keeper for the ages.
Set in Los Angeles over the course of but a few days in 1962, A Single Man centers on George Falconer (Firth, Oscar-nominated), 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 (About a Boy‘s Nicholas Hoult, all growed up), feels in George a sort of 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, 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. (George’s chance liquor store encounter with a Spanish hustler, played by Jon Kortajarena, meanwhile, comes across as intriguing but still fairly believable for this very reason — because it’s a fantasy digression from the order, structure and “safety” of his previously settled world.) Mine is something of a minority opinion on Hoult, I realize. His performance was praised by numerous critics, and tabbed for a Rising Star nomination at last year’s BAFTA Awards. But to me, 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 an delicateness to the production; Ford’s fashion sense informs every frame, and Eduard Grau’s cinematography is striking. But there’s also a bit of fussiness in some of the art direction — by the time the third symbolic underwater sequence comes along, it feels a bit much. Still, Firth is absolutely excellent, sublimating some of the bumbling charm that’s made him such a crush of the literate thirtysomething female crowd. In almost single-handed fashion, he makes A Single Man worth seeing.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, A Single Man comes to DVD presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track, and optional Spanish and English SDH subtitles. Supplemental bonus features come by of a quite thoughtful audio commentary track with Ford, as well as a 16-minute making-of featurette, which splices black-and-white interview clips with cast and crew with on-set footage and film clips in relatively obligatory fashion. A gallery of trailers for other Sony home video releases rounds out the affair. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) B- (Disc)