There isn’t much worse than a Hollywood movie that feels compelled to spell out every plot point. “You are 12 years old,” these films seem to say to us, “and so this is why Bobby loves Susie, and this is why Susie was in that car chase, and this is why Bobby shot the bad man in the head.”
On the other end of the spectrum, however, is the “enigmatic” drama – films in which too little is explained. Tom Ford’s A Single Man falls into this category, with its chronicle of the last day in the life of a despondent, homosexual English professor who has recently lost his longtime partner. I haven’t read the Christopher Isherwood novel upon which Man is based, but I imagine the book relies heavily on the inner-voice technique – narration or exposition that is commonplace in print but which can handicap a film version of the story.
Much has been made of Colin Firth’s portrayal of George, the lonely professor who spends one last day putting his affairs, literal and figurative, in order while preparing for suicide. Firth’s expressive face conveys intelligence, no question, but it also conveys little else. George is maddeningly detached from everyone around him, from neighborhood families to casual acquaintances. He can cut loose only with best pal Charley (Julianne Moore) – but even then only with much coaxing on her part. Right up until the end, George remains at arm’s length from other people, including the audience.
George seems to be watching himself in his own movie. When he learns from a child that his neighbor would like to toss him to the lions – just deserts for being “light in the loafers” – his reaction seems to be mild disappointment. When he aims a pistol into his own mouth, he seems to be wrestling with the proper way to blow-dry his hair. The end, when it finally comes, is not poignant but almost unintentionally funny – all that preparation, and look what happens. As the cliché goes, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Grade: B-
Director: Tom Ford Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode, Jon Kortajarena, Paulette Lamori Release: 2009
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