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Colin Firth and Matthew Goode
Matthew Goode as Jim, Colin Firth as George in...

"A Single Man"; a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Upfront, some words about sexual promiscuity.

It's a trait too common to human behavior, yes? If you'd like a fresh answer to that question, Elin Nordegren Woods has one for you. It is something lots of people in the heterosexual community practice or practiced. Many homosexuals are promiscuous, too. Such "news" can come as no surprise to any lucid adult, straight or gay. So with that said…

Here is a new film from the 1964 novel of the same title that deals not so much with promiscuity---although Christopher Isherwood, its author, was known to be a non-closeted gay man said to be openly promiscuous---but about a closeted, gay Englishman (George, played by Colin Firth) in Los Angeles in the mid-60s. George is shown going through a routine day coping with the news that his younger male companion (Jim, played by Matthew Goode just now, also, in "Leap Year") has been killed elsewhere in an auto crash.

George Falconer is a literature professor at a university in L A, autobiographically as was Isherwood about the same time at UCLA. George's predicament is given early in the film as he is told, in a phone call from an anonymous family representative of the dead companion, that he (George) is not welcome to attend Jim's funeral. So, George doesn't.

George really does love Jim---in silence, so to speak. The men have had a close, rewarding experience with their relationship: George the professor, Jim the architect. George also has another older and almost as close a connection with Charley, a single female (played by Julianne Moore) who lives near by. She and George had been lovers earlier in their lives before he became certain of his sexual orientation.

Colin Firth and Julianne Moore
Colin Firth and Julianne Moore

"A Single Man" spends most of its time alone with George and his flashbacks and fantasies and what the hell he's going to do with his loss. He's not what you could call a young man any longer. Early middle-aged would be a better way to describe him.

Charley is there for him, but she isn't able to fill much of the void, nor does George really want her to, even though he appreciates her support.

Colin Firth is spot-on as George. With his (then) fashionable, horn-rimmed glasses and haircut, he's somewhat the reminiscent figure William Holden cut in his heyday as an important leading man of Hollywood. But unlike Holden, Firth brings off the subtle role hauntingly fey and unforgettable. Awards, anyone?

Julianne Moore, for me, is nigh onto magnificent in her rather brief display as George's shoulder to cry on. Her slightly tired-looking beauty here combines two unlikely qualities: the sweet and the raw. Ms. Moore gives a memorable performance. Other awards, anyone?

The scene where Charley and George are dancing in her living room in bubbly celebration (for a party of two) made me think of the same intense facial expressions and close-ups of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun"--- that indelible sequence, of course, pregnant with legendary back story.

Precipitated by Jim's untimely death, the professor has a glancing yet consequential encounter with Kenny, one of his male students. Nicholas Hoult is convincing as the perceptive college youth who casts another autobiographical shadow in "A Single Man"--- a person author Isherwood was well known to have partnered with in South California. His name: Don Bachardy.

Texas-born fashionista, Tom Ford has written an excellent script and directed. Ford, who sometime ago outed himself during his Studio 54 days, has, I would suppose, the authentic sensibility to give the proper touch to this jolting but quiet story just at the threshold of America's gay liberation movement.

Colin Firth and Tom Ford
Colin Firth and Tom Ford

Making that abundantly clearer, Christopher Isherwood, long ago, dedicated his novel to Gore Vidal, a man who's never brooked any thought to not speaking out about the way things seem to him, including his own sexual orientation.

Isherwood is known for an earlier work, titled, "Goodbye to Berlin" and its character, Sally Bowles, the name of the woman Liza Minnelli played and won the 1972 Best Actress Oscar for in "Cabaret."

Composer Igor Stravinsky and author Aldous Huxley were also professional friends with Isherwood. Another well-done scene in "A Single Man," shows George giving an extemporaneous lecture to his class about the emotion of fear as it relates to Huxley's novel, "After Many A Summer." Firth's powerful fear speech would be even more relevant today than in the film's setting of an early 60s California classroom.

Film buffs will also recall Isherwood taking part in writing the script for the film, "The Loved One," Evelyn Waugh's satirical surgery on the Southern California funeral business.

Part of the music used on "Single's" soundtrack echoes back to an early 80s French film, "Diva," that centered on the singing and recording of the haunting aria, "Ebben? Ne Andro Lontana" from Alfredo Catalani's opera, "La Wally." It's a nice touch, for "Lontana" is one of those operatic melodies that won't leave your mind's ear, once hearing it.

Many films that deal with male homosexuality are soft porn; made to arouse those who might be titillated by such liaisons. "Single" ain't one of those, even though it's clear what "kind" of association these dudes are conducting: no explicit male nudity, and only one quiet scene of warm affection between Firth and Goode. That's not the reason for Ford's screenplay and film.

I don't want to say precisely what the point is, because, to do so, I'd have to reveal the ending. I'll just sneak up, a little, on what the film means to me, in hopes of titillating you in a non-libidinous way.

Besides connecting to the aforementioned, "After Many A Summer," "A Single Man" seems to resonate with a novella also written in the 30s by Albert Camus. As unlikely as it may seem, it's titled, "A Happy Death," (precursor to his "The Stranger") a story not about any kind sex, whatsoever.

"A Single Man" official site.

Opened in selected theaters 12/11.

1/16/2010: Now playing at the Circle Cinema in Tulsa.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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