Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A SINGLE MAN (Tom Ford, 2009)

***
USA



Tom Ford’s Wong-Kar-wai-by-way-of-a-perfume-ad mise-en-scène (you have to resort to a French cliché to describe it, nothing else will do) has little to do with Christopher Isherwood’s pained, ruminative, nourishing prose. But the film just might get to you anyway, thanks to its proficient ensemble.

Colin Firth reverts to auto-pilot for his Oscar-clip-reel bits, and he struggles to sell the surge of epiphany in the closing stretch (since the epiphany is totally unfounded). But he exudes a tersely, hopelessly half-suppressed grief and an elegance that grounds some of Ford’s excesses. What’s more, he maintains an easy, priceless chemistry with each of his gaudy, ever-shifting scene partners. The highlights among them include a baroque/tragicomic/majestic Julianne Moore and a lovely Matthew Goode, whose achievement might even be the most significant: he takes a ghastly plot device – the saintly, ethereally, irreproachably beautiful Dead Lover – and creates someone spontaneous, warm, bewitching yet thoroughly life-like.

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10 Comments:

At 3:11 AM , Blogger Paul Martin said...

Have you seen Genova, Goran? I have and I liked it - perhaps more to do with my high regard for Michael Winterbottom, though it's hardly his best work. I haven't seen A Single Man and, while people have raved about Firth's performance, it seems like a reprise of his role in Genova. I find Firth such a one note actor that I couldn't bring myself to see this film. I felt like I'd already seen it.

 
At 4:14 PM , Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Although generally I work hard to catch every new Winterbottom release (and sometimes it seems like there are 4 of those every year) - I skipped Genova. It looked a bit soggy and let's-grieve-around-pretty-architecture, and every review I read confirmed this. I might catch it on DVD, but I'm still a bit scared of it.

As for Firth, he's always been one of my least favourite actors. Before this, I only ever liked him in Shakespeare in Love - and I think that had less to do with his performance than my love for the movie overflowing. He does hit a kind of career peak in Single Man in that, for once, he adds layers to his trademark sullen look. I'm not sure that he earns all the hosanna's he's been amassing, but then it's been such a weak year for [male] actors that he stands out.

 
At 9:00 PM , Blogger Paul Martin said...

For me, the problems with Firth are:
- He has such a narrow range
- Consequently, he pretty much plays the same role in every film
- He seems to be always playing slight variations of himself
- Thus in any film he's in, I see Firth the actor, not the character

It seems to me that Hollywood adores certain British traits, that stiff upper lip thing, and gives such actors undue regard. The same is as true of say, Hugh Grant and Daniel Craig.

 
At 5:08 PM , Blogger Paul Martin said...

Having now seen the film, I think it's Firth's best work yet - though that's not saying much, given that his roles are all so wooden. I'd hardly call his performance Oscar-worthy, though I suppose Hollywood places a lot of value on party-tricks like tears on tap (à la Penelope Cruz).

If the film works at all - and I think it does - it's because of the film's construction, even if it does resemble, as you say, a perfume ad or even an ad for Tom Ford clothes, which it is.

 
At 11:00 PM , Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I will first glare at you re: your statement regarding my diva goddess of the decade, and politely brush past the subject.

Otherwise yeah, that's roughly what I felt about Firth's work - finally he's managed to build an engaging, more-than-one-note character within his limited range - though, for me, the tears-on-tap scenes were his weakest. On this note, I get very impatient with how crying is perceived as Real Acting, particularly by Ampass. Being able to cry on cue is kind of impressive the same way as being able to put your body through a tennis racket is. It's a party trick, and completely meaningless beyond that. With a lot of actors (even when giving praised performances) I get the impression that once they get the waterworks going, they feel that no further acting is necessary. It seriously limits a performance.

 
At 11:33 PM , Blogger Paul Martin said...

I'm so over Cruz. To see Almodóvar gush over her and say how amazing she is and how she can cry on tap, and then she does cry on tap - that promotion of her simply diminishes her. And if anyone does the same with Firth, it diminishes him as well. But - as you say - moving on...

Elsewhere, Alice Tynan posted a link to an interview with Tom Ford that I found quite interesting. Firth is perfect for the role, because the role demands someone like him who is so wooden on the outside, and for him to demonstrate his internal struggle. For an experienced audience, a problem arises when we see that he's simply playing the same role, or the same sort of role, we're so accustomed to seeing. It takes away from the experience of seeing a film, which should be a new experience, and not something we feel we've seen before.

But the film still works well, because of Ford's original (relatively speaking) touch.

See, Goran, I've given you the satisfaction of both agreeing with you and disagreeing with you, all in one post. ;)

 
At 5:46 PM , Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

We put David and Margaret to shame ;)

 
At 8:52 PM , Blogger Paul Martin said...

Actually we're much more alike than D&M. But point taken.

 
At 10:40 PM , Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Really? Last episode I watched they each gave three and a half stars to absolutely everything. Every time Stratton was about to give his reasons as to why he himself had chosen this rating, Margaret said "Oh, David!" and that was that.

 
At 4:18 AM , Blogger Paul Martin said...

I was at a media screening today and having a coffee with a female film reviewer after. The subject of the show came up in relation to the recent ACMI event with David Stratton. She said that, as a woman, she finds Margaret embarrassing. I particularly dislike her "Oh David" comments.

 

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