Colin Firth plays George in a way that elicits compassion from the viewer, because he’s trying so hard to get over himself.
Yes, there is some caricature, with a fussy personality that insists on a clean, neat appearance. And there’s some in-your-face stuff with the gratuitous close-ups of young, athletic men with their shirts off, not to mention guys kissing. But they’re careful not to show full frontal nudity, or even very much ardor. And, our quiet hero is also a complicated man, because one of his best friends is a neighbor named Charley (Julianne Moore), with whom he had a fling when they were both much younger. So, it’s complicated. Mostly, it’s about his pronounced grieving, which is something that taps into the experience of many of us who sometimes wonder if our own prolonged mourning is obsessive self-indulgence disguised as compassion and sensitivity. Yes, yes, they talk about the emotional stages, and how it all gets better with the passing of time, but what if that’s not true for everyone?
“A Single Man” represents the directorial debut of Tom Ford, the fashion designer. The adherence to the 1960’s clothing is spot-on, as is the lonely life of gay folks in those days who were reluctant to “come out of the closet” (and often weren’t included in social occasions like funerals). Smoking is still commonplace in public venues, as is the kind of reserved decorum implied by more formal attire. The classical music score, and the quiet little moments relating to acquaintances and neighbors, keeps the atmosphere dignified and low-key, as George’s quiet desperation grows deeper and more profound.
Yes, there’s nothing like the promise of new romance that will, eventually, help heal the lovesick soul. “A Single Man,” though featuring a fine performance from Colin Firth, will struggle for an audience, and not just because it’s mostly about depression.
But hopefully, there will be more from Tom Ford.
RONALD P.SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.