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Movie review: A Single Man

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Rating: 2/5

Verdict: Beautiful and utterly lifeless.

Colin Firth is the only plausibly human presence in the film. Photo / Supplied
Colin Firth is the only plausibly human presence in the film. Photo / Supplied

Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel about a day in the life of an alienated and mourning gay man was a pioneering work of queer fiction, a superbly controlled internal monologue which for all its richly melancholic tone, teemed with life.

The film version, by contrast, looks like a fashion shoot, which should not surprise since Ford is a fashion designer, fabled for his rescue of Gucci and for his own label. Almost every frame screams "Look at me!" so loudly that it makes you flinch.

Sometimes the extravagant compositions are just plain silly: the blossom of ink on a bed from an unattended fountain pen, would have taken about 40 litres of ink to create. But mostly the film is either so overwrought or so self-consciously studied - love that house! sharp suit! - it's like watching someone admiring himself in a mirror.

The single man is George Falconer (Colin Firth), an expatriate Englishman teaching at a Los Angeles college, and struggling to find a purpose to life after the sudden death of his long-time partner.

In this he is both helped and hindered by his good friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a gin-sodden, faded beauty who comes out with lines like "Living in the past is my future" and sounds unnervingly like Edina in Absolutely Fabulous.

We watch George negotiate a single day suspecting that it will be his last because we see the contents of his briefcase - another brutally unsubtle Ford addition - but the film seems to go out of its way to make him inaccessible to us.

It evokes not so much a time and place as a caricature of them, like a design for a window display. The jerky narrative rhythm is presumably deliberate but the laughably imprecise editing is not, and it ends up feeling like the film is in the service of its maker rather than the other way around.

Amid all this, Firth's Bafta-winning performance struggles to breathe. I'm a huge admirer of his acting but his work here is effective in spite of, not because of, the film as a whole and it's a measure of his skill that he creates the only plausibly human presence in the film.

An online quote attributed to Ford is: "If you spend an hour and a half in a movie theatre, it should challenge you."

A Single Man certainly doesn't do that, but it will surely make you reflect that your wardrobe's pretty shabby.

Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Kortajarena
Director: Tom Ford
Running time: 100 mins
Rating: M (adult themes)

- NZ Herald

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