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A Single Man

By Wendy Ward | Posted 1/13/2010

After making a name for himself saving Gucci in the mid-'90s, designer Tom Ford's own label of clean yet glamorous clothing and accessories has had the distinction of selling to both men as well as women--and not all designers appeal to both sexes. His homosexuality is reserved and glamorous, too--remember the Vanity Fair cover of him posed with a nude Scarlett Johansson and Kiera Knightley? Ford's first foray into feature filmmaking feels a long time coming. His A Single Man is stylized almost to death and uses all the tools a director might find in his hand-stitched, fine calfskin carryall. Based on the Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel of the same name and set in a historically accurate 1962 Los Angeles backdrop, it gorgeously conveys a day in the life of George (Colin Firth), an aging gay Brit in the eighth month of mourning his dead lover, Jim (Matthew Goode).

Waking up has not gotten easier with time, but George does get up in the morning. Through voiceovers and the flashbacks that occupy George's head before he even leaves the house for his job teaching English at a liberal college, you know he had a true and deep love with Jim, who died in a car accident. You also learn that Jim's parents did not acknowledge their relationship, and that George's best friend Charley (Julianne Moore) was the one who consoled him.

Charley is a messy piece of work: divorced, wealthy, alcoholic, aging, and beautiful, she represents the old guard in her stunning black-and-white column, ankle-length dress--and a floor-length back panel only truly shown off when she's dancing an elegant twist--while the students at George's campus represent the future, their style influences ranging from foreign cinema's Bridget Bardot to James Dean. Ford takes the comparisons deeper with Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), a student of George's whose philosophical curiosity and sexual confidence typify the younger, modern generation.

Firth is flawless as George. His body fit, and his sad, sleepless pallor believable. Ford uses color and the lack of it to symbolize life: George's normal yet dysfunctional neighbors move in slow motion in bright, California sunlight; Charley's luxurious house is all artificial light; and George's modern glass home is filled with hard, natural light. A Single Man feels much longer than its 100 minutes due to it's saturated style, which offers an overwhelming amount of emotion and stunning visuals to take in. It's almost style overload, and you hope Ford held something back to use in his sophomore effort.

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