FilmSoc screens ‘A Single Man’ – Does its Substance Match its Style?

Calvin Law revisits Tom Ford’s 2009 debut in anticipation of tomorrow’s FilmSoc screening.

Through his first two features, renowned fashion designer Tom Ford has proved to be – for lack of a better word – a stylish director. Whether or not he’s a good director has been a point of division. Some think his talents befit the medium of cinema, creating aesthetically pleasing visuals to match stylized narratives; others contend that his beautiful aesthetic fails to make up for often hollow and meandering narratives. I’m somewhere in between in this regard. I found Nocturnal Animals a failure on a storytelling level, failing to create any naturalism with its Lynchian dialogue and performances, and its visual style completely ill-fitting to the heavy and often gritty themes it was trying to convey; A Single Man, perhaps less ambitious, is far more assured a film.

There is debate over whether Ford is the right person to tell this particular story, which covers a day in the life of middle-aged English professor George Falconer (an Oscar-nominated Colin Firth), during which he decides to commit suicide that evening. Through recurring flashbacks we learn about his long-term relationship with Jim (Matthew Goode); in the present we watch him go about his day, interacting with his students, neighbours, and best friend Charley (Julianne Moore). Now I’ve read of reservations from those who believe that the film, though depicting a gay character dealing with grief and societal issues surrounding his sexuality, diminishes the importance of LGBT culture through its stylized approach and lack of representation. Well, though the film’s focus is indeed rather limited, and fairly glossy in its approach to sexuality, I’d say that is perfectly fitting to the story of a very emotionally repressed man who despite a fairly luxurious lifestyle finds his existence truly empty without his partner. A grittier or more earthly approach would have removed it of its distinctive style and made it too ‘slice of life’; the stylized approach, this time round, helps enhance the narrative. It is at the end of the day, a portrayal of a single white male’s grief, but that shouldn’t be held against it: I think it tells this sort of narrative fairly well.

Of course, A Single Man is certainly no MoonlightCarol, or even a Brokeback Mountain or The Kids Are Alright when it comes to LGBT film. As I’ve mentioned, it is a fairly simplistic film on the whole. Besides the nice cinematography, the other standout element is Colin Firth’s performance, which was rightfully acclaimed; it’s probably his best performance to date. Julianne Moore is also solid in her single scene with Firth. Otherwise the performances are bland script-reads by pretty people (including Nicholas Hoult, who’s since proved himself to be way more impressive than his dull turn here would indicate). And yes, as a Weinstein distributed film it features pretty much every Oscar-bait trope in its pursuit of the Oscars. It’s showing this Tuesday at the UCL Film Society screenings – check it out then and make of it what you will.

A Single Man will be screened in UCL’s DMS Watson Building, Room G15, at 6pm.

> All details on the Facebook event.

UCL Film & TV Society hosts a weekly screening from a diverse programme of relevant and interesting films. Check out our Facebook page to discover what’s showing every week. (NOTE: society membership is required for attendance; info on website.)

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