It comes as no surprise that Tom Ford’s first movie “A Single Man” is stunning to look at — after all, he is the genius designer who got Gucci back on its feet and then launched his own label with some of the most stylish advertising ever to be seen in glossy magazines.
What’s really interesting about the film, however, is the way this man of fashion digs beneath the beautiful surface of life in Southern California in the early 1960s to tell a story of a middle-aged college professor (Colin Firth) struggling with the loss of his companion (Matthew Goode) of 16 years in a car accident.
“A Single Man” probes what is perhaps the most difficult emotion to dramatize in a film or play — grief.
As Joan Didion wrote in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” those who grieve run the risk of having other people think in terms of self-pity.
Our whole culture is designed around a “Get on with it!” philosophy — yes, take the time to recognize your loss with a funeral and a few days off work, but two weeks later, few outsiders really want to hear about that terrible internal trauma.
Working with Colin Firth, Tom Ford has managed the trick of making us care about the profound sadness of the professor. The director with such an acute feel for the surface of things uses the man’s rather plush life in a gorgeous home — and more than one potential suitor waiting in the wings — to heighten the tragedy of loss.
Ford is clearly as masterful with actors as he is with designers and cameramen — Firth’s performance is a marvel of hiding and displaying primal feelings without going over the top into self-indulgence.
“A Single Man” is not doing well at the box-office — you can’t hide the fact that despite the film’s many accomplishments, it’s a downer. The night I saw the picture recently, there were no more than ten people in the theater.
Perhaps the movie will get a bump from Firth’s likely Oscar nomination next Tuesday morning, but whatever happens in terms of the picture’s bottom line, it most definitely marks Ford as a new director to watch. It’s the most exciting film to come out of the fashion world since Bruce Weber’s “Let’s Get Lost” in 1989.