December 24, 2009

A Single Man (12/24/09)

Lettergrade: C

A Single Man shows us a few days in the life of a 1960s lit professor played by Colin Firth who is coping with the recent death of his longtime boyfriend. It's the directorial debut of Tom Ford, who recently completed a wildly successful stint as the creative director of Gucci and is largely credited with saving the company. I mention this up front because although the film has no shortage of stellar acting, it suffers from being a little too stylized for its own good at the same time. For me that extends to several aspects of the movie... the bludgeoning score (which mysteriously got nominated for a Golden Globe!), the heavy sets and photography, and the long, brooding passages where people sulk and stare off at nothing. The picture is effective at what it sets out to do, I suppose, but it is deeply rooted in something of an old fashioned art house idiom that almost feels like a clich├ęd parody of what Awards movies are supposed to be these days.

One of the more talked about techniques in the film (at least among my film friends) is that the color will go from warm to cool and back again within a single shot whenever a character's mood changes. It's interesting, to be sure, but not much more subtle than having the actor look directly into the lens and tell the audience he's feeling sad now.

But gripes aside, Colin Firth really does do a stellar job and is very much deserving of all the acclaim he has been getting for the role. Julianne Moore chewed the scenery a bit as Firth's long-time friend Charley, whom he once boinked before coming to terms with his own sexuality. I don't know anything about Christopher Isherwood's novel, or what it might have been like to be a gay man living in that time period, but something about her callous lack of understanding about how real her friend's love is and how deeply he's hurting just doesn't have the ring of truth to me.

Other supporting characters include Jon Kortajarena as a sultry latin character whom Firth meets in a liquor store, and Nicholas Hoult as one of Firth's students who holds an aggressive yet apprehensive attraction toward his teacher. Hoult is seriously channeling Jack McBrayer's "Kenneth The Page" character from NBC's 30 Rock in this film, a problem that's only augmented by the fact that his character is also named "Kenny." Shockingly uncredited, though is Drew Carey, who selflessly lent his horned rim glasses to Firth for the duration of the shoot, doubtlessly delaying Price Is Right tapings for weeks on end.

Ford reportedly put a good amount of his own money up in order to get the movie made, both because it is subject material that he identifies with, being gay, but also because he wanted a career as a film director. His gamble certainly paid off: He's got a good deal of acclaim now, and will assuredly get a second movie from this -- one that we won't have to bankroll himself. It feels like we're in an age where people rarely put their money where their mouth is when it comes to making a film they'd like to see. I respect that Ford dipped into his considerable savings to make this picture, but I still wish he had made one that felt a little less stodgy.

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