Movie Review - 'A Single Man' - In '60s L.A., A Somber, Stylish Encounter With Grief Fashion designer Tom Ford makes a stylish debut with A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a closeted gay man struggling with solitude after his longtime partner is killed in a car crash. Critic Bob Mondello says the film is a visually sensitive tale of a man learning at last to live in the moment. (Recommended)
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In '60s L.A., A Somber, Stylish Encounter With Grief

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In '60s L.A., A Somber, Stylish Encounter With Grief



In '60s L.A., A Somber, Stylish Encounter With Grief

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Tom Ford is mainly known as a designer. He revived the Gucci fashion house then went on to start one of his own. Now, Tom Ford is adding to his resume, he's directed his first film. It's called "A Single Man." It stars Colin Firth.

Our critic Bob Mondello says the movie is, as you might expect, stylish.

BOB MONDELLO: George Falconer is in mourning but scarcely anyone knows it. The year is 1962, and as a college professor in Los Angeles, George can't let on what he's feeling or, for that matter, who he is.

(Soundbite of movie, "A Single Man")

Mr. COLIN FIRTH (Actor): (as George Falconer) It takes time in the morning for me to become George, and to adjust to what is expected as George and how he is to behave. By the time I'm dressed and put the final air of polish on the now slightly stiff but quite perfect George, I know fully what part I'm supposed to play.

MONDELLO: That part is not the part of a grieving widower, because that would be an admission that a friend who died in a car crash was more than a friend. Jim was, in fact, George's spouse - they had lived together for 16 years.

Mr. FIRTH: (as George Falconer) Looking in the mirror staring back at me isn't so much a face as the expression of a predicament. Just get through the God damn day.

MONDELLO: The film gives us that day. George, played with enormous subtlety by Colin Firth, is surrounded by people but might as well be invisible, a gay man in a world that only acknowledges homosexuals to condemn them.

So he leaves things unsaid with colleagues and speaks in a kind of code to his students, one they can't quite decipher, about prejudice and how it's used to bolster '60s fears.

(Soundbite of film, "A Single Man")

Mr. FIRTH: (As George) A fear of being attacked, a fear that there are communists lurking around every corner, a fear that some little Caribbean country that doesn't believe in our way of life poses a threat to us, the fear that black culture may take over the world, the fear of Elvis Presley's hips. Actually, maybe that one is real fear.

MONDELLO: Not a smile from the class. George remains invisible except to one student, Kenny, who comes to him with questions, including one he's not quite asking.

Christopher Isherwood's novel is the chronicle of a single day in George's life. And while Tom Ford's film also chronicles a single day, the director has made one adjustment. The film's George can find no reason to go on, so he's quietly decided not to. And that adds urgency as he cleans out his desk, appreciates the smell of a dog's fur as if for the first time and gets quietly plastered with his closest friend, played by Julianne Moore, who has loved him for two decades without ever understanding him.

(Soundbite of film, "A Single Man")

Ms. JULIANNE MOORE (Actor): (As Charley) Don't you ever miss this, what we could have been to each other, having a real relationship and kids?

Mr. FIRTH: (As George) I had Jim.

Ms. MOORE: (As Charley) No, I mean a real relationship. What you and Jim had together was wonderful, but wasn't it really just a substitute for something else?

Mr. FIRTH: (As George) Is that what you really think after all these years? Jim was not a substitute for anything, understand? And there is no substitute for Jim.

MONDELLO: Director Tom Ford films all of this so elegantly with a designer's eye, every shot precisely framed, that for a time it seems he might actually be making things too stylish: sleek '60s clothing, a house out of Architectural Digest. The filming is so controlled it feels a little airless.

But as the beige-on-gray visuals glow with warmer colors when emotions flare, you realize this director has made style strategic. George is a man who manages his feelings, and visualizing him in such pristine terms lets Ford highlight the tiniest of gestures: the finessing he does to navigate a can't-ask-can't-tell world and the glimmers of hope that flare unexpectedly at the edges of despair.

For "A Single Man," despite all George's grief, is about someone who's finally learning to live in the moment, a moment that Ford makes at once wrenching and ravishing.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

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