It was a rainy, miserable Saturday, so what better way to spend it than nestled deep in a cinema chair? My local indie film house had both films, a 20-second indoor walk apart between the two theaters, so I saw both of these films back to back.
I didn’t expect to like “A Single Man”, even though critics dubbed it “rapturous and remarkable” (Pete Travers, Rolling Stone) and “the role of a lifetime” for Firth (Time.) I was dubious that Tom Ford, a fashion designer, could direct an entire feature film first time out of the gate.
I loved it.
Firth, who seems to have gotten stuck (Bridget Jones, Love Actually, Mamma Mia) in too many roles where he plays the cosy, overlooked Englishman, is extraordinary. Bitter, anguished, private, wary. The scene where he is told his lover has died, far away, in a car crash, is shot in tight close-up and — like a baby’s face, changing every few seconds — his crumples from disbelief to dismay to agony. It is astonishing acting.
If you love pure aesthetics and gorgeous design, this is a film for you. Everything is fab — his bottle-green Mercedes, his thick black eyeglass frames, his gold signet ring, worn on his pinky, his gray flannel bathrobe. Julianne Moore is terrific as Charley, his one-time lover, another ex-pat from London, now his boozy, lonely next-door neighbor. They need one another like oxygen and their moments of shared laughter are delicious.
Nicholas Hoult, with eyes the color of turquoise, pursues this wounded widower. Hoult, who was wonderful in the 2002 film “About A Boy” is slyly, slowly seductive as Kenny, one of George’s English students. Writes Hamish Bowles in Vogue:
In the key role of Kenny, a student of George’s who will prove something of a redeeming angel in his life, Ford had already cast a well-known English actor when Chris Weitz, one of his coproducers, showed him an audition tape made by Nicholas Hoult, whom Weitz had directed in 2002’s About a Boy with Hugh Grant. “I felt sick inside,” says Ford. “He read the part so beautifully—he was Kenny. I was not about to get rid of someone already attached to the project, but on the first day of rehearsal the other actor pulled out. He never called me—no excuses. But it became a really great moment; Nick was meant to play the role of Kenny. As George says in the film, ‘Everything is exactly the way it’s supposed to be.’ ”
For the 20-year-old Hoult—a heartthrob for his role in the BBC’s edgy high school drama series Skins who will appear in Louis Leterrier’s forthcoming sword-and-sandals epic Clash of the Titans—the summons to Los Angeles was initially underwhelming. “To be perfectly honest, growing up in Reading I wasn’t really aware of Tom Ford,” he admits. When he checked his credits on the Internet Movie Database, “all that came up was an extra in Zoolander!” he says, laughing. But when he sat down with Ford, he “realized how passionate he was about the project. In many ways it was autobiographical—a love poem to Richard [Buckley, Ford’s longtime partner]—and my character was Tom when he was eighteen.” Following the meeting Hoult researched Ford and sheepishly “realized what a phenomenon he was.”
Ford, of course, has every detail down, from the Smythson stationery George uses to the white boatneck sweater Kenny wears. There are ravishing shots: a moon, a wet rose, a revolver.
I found it deeply moving — and far fresher a subject — a gay man in 1962 mourning the loss of his lover of 16 years — than Bridges’ (Oscar-winning) portrayal of Bad Blake, a 57-year-old alcoholic country singer pursued (why?!) by a young reporter (sigh), played by Maggie Gyllenhall.
Firth was robbed!