Movie Review: Colin Firth as A SINGLE MAN

I wanted to see this movie because of Colin Firth, though I wasn’t crazy about the notion of a sad, mopey Firth when I like him awkward and silly as in Love Actually and the Bridget Jones movies. But his performance in A Single Man (limited release, Dec. 11) proves he’s a first-rate actor who can make grief not only watchable but compelling.

Set in 1961 and based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Man deals with college professor George Falconer’s (Firth) struggle to cope with the death of his long-time partner Jim (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. The whole movie takes place on the day George decides to commit suicide. We see him putting his affairs in order and internally saying goodbye to his students and best friend Charly (Julianne Moore). Ironically, as he prepares to die, he becomes more alive, taking in details about his surroundings he hadn’t bothered to absorb during his grief-stricken stupor.

And that’s about it as far as plot goes. Being a fan of plot-driven stories, I was greatly surprised I wasn’t bored by some tedious navel-gazing. Most of the credit goes to Firth, who’s in every scene and holds my attention in all of them. He pulls off the difficult act of covering up feelings you suspect are roiling inside George, but he doesn’t bury them so deeply that the character becomes inaccessible. You can see his thoughts as they flit behind his eyes, the mental screams he’d like to release. For all his graceful suffering, George should bring Firth his first Oscar nomination.

Moore is also impressive—is that news to anyone? She plays a woman in mid-life crisis, feeling worthless because her husband and son have left her and her looks are fading (she’s still gorgeous to me). As strong as her performance is, though, I’ve seen better from Moore—in The Hours, for example. If she does get an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, she has no chance (no one does) of beating Mo’Nique for Precious.


The biggest surprise here is Nicholas Hoult as a conflicted student of George’s who slowly awakens the older man to feelings he thought he no longer had. Hoult is so impossibly pretty with his golden hair, flirty baby blues, and pink pout, I was shocked to realize he’s the same actor who played Marcus,

Hoult in ABOUT A BOY

the plump, awkward kid who pestered Hugh Grant in About a Boy. Well, he’s all grown up and ungainly no more.

First-time director and co-screenwriter, Tom Ford, known primarily for his work as a fashion designer for Gucci, knows a thing or two about beauty. All his actors are ridiculously good-looking and he made sure you know it. It got to be a bit much after a while; I actually chuckled when the camera zoomed in for the umpteenth time on Hoult’s and Firth’s naked bodies floating in slo-mo in the ocean, or lingered on a starlet’s bee-stung lips exhaling cigarette smoke seductively.

Ford said during the post-Variety-screening Q & A (more on that below) he wanted a Bernard Herrmann-esque score as homage to the composer known for his work in Hitchcock movies, but the plaintive strings are too overpowering for such an introspective film. Ford needn’t try so hard; he has potential as a filmmaker and was smart enough to cast superb actors who added class to a project that could’ve been dismissible.

When Ford showed up for the Q & A, he was soft-spoken, articulate and unexpectedly vulnerable. He told a lot of personal stories which he said informed the movie. Some details:

  • He first read the book 25 years ago when he was living in West Hollywood and working as an actor.
  • George didn’t want to kill himself in the novel but Ford added that plot point because of a suicide in his family.
  • Firth originally turned down the film so Ford cast another actor. When that actor dropped out 3 weeks before production, Ford flew to London, pitched Firth personally instead of going through his rep and this time Firth said yes.
  • The film was shot in 21 days, with only 3 of rehearsal. Ford simply had Firth watch a clip of Bill Clinton denying he’d done certain things to Monica Lewinsky, then told Firth to have George cover up his emotions like that.
  • In a scene where George is supposed to chastely kiss Charly, Firth wouldn’t stop kissing Moore, resulting in several unusable takes. Ford had to keep reminding Firth he was playing a gay man.

Nerd verdict: Man is imperfect but Firth is impeccable

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  • Reply
    November 21, 2009 at 12:36 am

    Thanks for the review PCN.

    I cannot resist a movie starring Julianne Moore, and I do think that Colin Firth is a great understated actor. Nicholas Hoult is not quite a surprise since I last saw him in the few episodes of Skins I watched, and he managed to express the emotions convincingly. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be an amazing actor.

    Thanks again PCN. You always manage to get me excited about going to the movies; and yet, you reveal so little of the films that I still get the whole experience.

    • Reply
      November 21, 2009 at 12:36 am

      ** I meant underrated…

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    November 21, 2009 at 1:33 am

    Thanks so much, Poncho. I’m glad I can share my love for movies with you.

    I hadn’t kept up with Nicholas Hoult’s career so I thought, “Who is this guy? He looks vaguely familiar…” then was gobsmacked when I saw his name at the end.

    I think Firth is underrated and understated, at least in this movie.

  • Reply
    November 21, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Excellent review, PCN. Sounds like a good movie to take in. You know, Julianne Moore portraying a woman feeling down because her looks are fading is going to draw as much sympathy as Warren Buffett worrying he’s lost $$$ in some investments. And if I were in Firth’s place, I’d have kept kissing her, too, in that scene. [notice I’m not saying this on my blog where SWMBO can read it]. I’m looking forward to more of your reviews, especially during this time of year. Thanks for this.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 21, 2009 at 10:56 am

      Haha! If I looked like Julianne Moore while my looks are fading, I’d probably try to kiss myself.

      I’d bet SWMBO would understand your feelings. I mean, we’re talking about Julianne Moore! And had I been doing that kissing scene with Firth, it would have turned into soft porn because I would’ve done something inappropriate for sure.

      Yes, my husband reads this blog. There ain’t no secrets.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    November 21, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Wonderful review as always, PCN! I loved hearing about Colin Firth’s kissing scenes with Julianne Moore. Then again, is there anything not loveable about that man?! As for Nicholas Hoult ~ they really do grow up so fast, don’t they.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks, Shell. Nicholas Hoult didn’t just grow up, he completely transformed himself!

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    November 22, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I’ve always been envious of Julianne Moore’s looks too…and her daughter who is cute as a button!

    Colin Firth has long been a favorite of mine. Surprise, surprise. While they haven’t always been in huge box office films, he’s done such a wide range of roles. His flexibility on stage is just astounding. And when I’m able to watch him in a film and not see Mr. Darcy, you know he has talent! 🙂

    Can’t wait to see this film!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

      Oh my gosh, Liv is Julianne’s Mini-Me. That little girl is going to be as gorgeous as her mama.

      I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Colin Firth. I was sitting next to a British lady in the theater who was giddy about him. I thought, Dang, she’s come a long way to see this movie!

  • Reply
    November 22, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for this great review, PCN!
    As Poncho said, you’re really good at saying just enough and not too much to get us excited without spoiling the whole thing!
    I am a total Julianne Moore’s fan (I think she’s my favorite actress ever!) so of course I’ll go and see that one. Moreover, the story sounds interesting and moving, I don’t know enough about that Colin Firth who seems to be a great actor, I like Nicholas Hoult a lot (he’s really good at playing a cruel selfish manipulative teenager in the British TV series “Skins”) and Tom Ford is a talented esthete!

    By the way, I just saw “The private lives of Pippa Lee” today, directed by Rebecca Miller and starring Robin Wright Penn (a great part for her at last!), Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Monica Bellucci, Alan Arkin, Winona Ryder and… Julianne Moore! If you have a chance to see it, you’ll have a very pleasant moment!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 22, 2009 at 5:21 pm

      Wait, what? You don’t know much about Colin Firth?! Julien, you must immediately rent any of the following: 1) Pride & Prejudice BBC miniseries, 2) Love Actually, 3) Bridget Jones’s Diary, then get back to me to discuss.

      I want to see Pippa Lee (I’m a Robin Wright fan) but it hasn’t come out in theaters here. There was one screening but it was on the same night as The Road so I chose that. Thank you for your recommendation—I’ll look forward to it!

  • Reply
    November 22, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks for your review. Can’t wait to see it.
    Nic Hoult was also good in ‘Wah Wah’ with Gabriel Byrne.
    I have been a long time Firth fan. Check out ‘A Month in the Country’, ‘Another Country’,’Where the Truth Lies’,” Girl with a Pearl Earring’ “Apartment Zero” and Valmont for a few more of his great performances.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 22, 2009 at 11:48 pm

      Welcome, elemacd, you’re quite a Firth fan! I’ve seen Truth and Pearl Earring; will have to check out those other titles. Thanks.

  • Reply
    January 8, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    I’m seeing this movie tonight (one of the last one’s of my selected awards season list)….but, HAD TO check on your blog before I go….Your writing always arouses my appetite…..

  • Reply
    February 17, 2010 at 1:40 am

    Very beautiful film, stunningly styled, but the acting of Colin Firth is outstanding. He gives a subtle, muted, but deeply emotional portrayal of the role, that fully justifies his Oscar nomination.

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