Tom Ford helmed A Single Man, his 2009 directorial debut, before the recently released Nocturnal Animals (2016), his second film as director.
The designer aesthetic of Tom Ford pours through virtually every single frame of A Single Man. Many of the shots during the movie look as if they were ripped straight from the pages of GQ magazine and the ads therein. In fact, much of the movie looks like a beautiful print ad from some fashion designer, icon guy, named, Tom Ford. Who would have thunk?
In many respects this is a sad movie. It moves at a languid pace. The lead character, George, is played by Colin Firth. George is a gay college professor trapped in the early sixties Los Angeles, but more broadly the entire zeitgeist of the time. He has just lost his partner.
Lavish attention is paid to George’s clothing and accessories, the trappings of his stylish image. Much the same, the camera lingers over the furnishings and design of his modernistic home. The film teeters on the edge of commerciality, almost to the extent that you expect to be shopped a cologne at the next turn. One big, beautifully shot commercial, A Single Man is a soft sell for the supposed beautiful life. The only things missing are the name brands.
However, George is not happy. He has suffered the loss of his significant other. That is tragic enough. But maybe things go deeper, too. Or go deeper now. Or maybe things are not deep at all. Things, as in possessions, may only be the icing on the cake, unsatisfying on their own, without the solid base of the cake. In A Single Man, George’s life-changing loss may only be the beginning of what will become the reevaluation of the erstwhile beautiful life. George may be finding his life an empty, albeit gorgeous, shell.
So what is Tom Ford trying to tell us here? Is this a not-so-subtle hint that maybe all of life is not just within the glossy pages of purveyor’s print ads and that which they purvey? Do some people need to be reminded of this glassy and glamorous gauze? To paraphrase Mick Jagger, satisfaction can be a complicated brew.
However, one thing is for sure. Tom Ford has a fantastic eye for setting up a lovely scene. If you fancy a stroll through the glossy print ads of magazines like Vogue and GQ, then give A Single Man a whirl. The camera loves everything it sees in this film. Accordingly, a tip of the oh so stylish fedora to Director of Photography, Eduard Grau, is also in order.
All of that, and the restrained performance by Colin Firth, makes A Single Man worth watching. There is also the welcome relief of hilarity and partying thrown into the mix by kooky neighbor, Charley, played by Julianne Moore. This serves as a comedic counterpoint to George’s dramatic tailspin.
There is some real pain in this film. It is the kind of pain that cannot be alleviated by the exciting world of designer cuff links or the custom-made, and no doubt expensive, leather boxes in which they reside. This silk tie and silk stocking lifestyle has been marred, not by the dreaded clump of lint or the inglorious wayfaring wrinkle daring to show its face on a bespoke suit. No, this, my friends, is grief and George is not doing very well anymore.
George is now a prisoner of grief, a gorgeous goose in a gilded cage. Depressed and suicidal, there is little solace in the furnishings. They lay on George like a death mask and on his desk like provisions for the afterlife in an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb. It is going to take a long time for George to come to grips with any new beginnings that may come his way. George’s life and lifestyle need a big change and a new direction. Maybe Charley can pump some life into him. Or maybe some of the fresher faces down on the beach might be the cure. Nothing works for iron poor blood like Geritol and a young paramour.
So, there is hope for George, way, way out on the horizon, right about there where you can see the curvature of the earth. Until then, you will have to settle for languid, beautiful shots, stunning in fact, of an elegant and refined man of a certain age, dressed with impeccable taste, waiting in his stylish house, and when he hopefully returns to his best days, perhaps in the sequel, peering over the top of what is no doubt a first edition, and wondering, with slight pique, where that awful film crew from Architectural Digest is and are they not a tad late? The answer is yes, and fashionably so.