Movie Reviews

A Single Man

Directed by Tom Ford
Colin Firth plays George Falconer, a professor in 1962 Los Angeles who loses his long time partner in a distant car wreck and struggles through the lonely aftermath, trying to get through each day without him. There’s nothing unique about losing a loved one but Falconer, as a gay man in that period, has only one person he can share his feelings with, his best friend Charley (Julianne Moore) with whom he also shares a complicated past. At work and in his daily life, he maintains a stoicism that hides the lost romance that was always hidden.

“A Single Man” is based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood – the Chris of “Chris and Don” and the writer of the source material for “Cabaret.” The film is directed by fashion designer Tom Ford. There are some directorial choices that are a little too self-conscious at times, but the result is still powerful and one of the top picks of the year (it’s a 2009 film opening slightly late in Sacramento). Firth is excellent in the lead role [side note: Firth himself is the child of two college educators] and is supported well by Moore and by Matthew Goode as lost love Jim (seen in flashbacks – and also seen in another release this week: “Leap Year”). All grown up since 2002’s “About a Boy,” Nicholas Hoult plays a concerned student in one of George’s classes and rounds out the cast nicely.  

It’s perhaps too easy to look at “A Single Man” in the context of the era depicted and sympathize with George for the time in which he lived. This was California a decade before Harvey Milk moved from New York City to San Francisco and a period when ‘moral turpitude’ was still very much an issue, especially for educators. But, almost 50 years later, and despite much greater acceptance of gays in society, many individuals still live in fear of adverse family reactions and even the loss of employment for simply being themselves. One of the complications for George is that he isn’t welcome at Jim’s funeral—and is only even aware of it because of the kindness of a single sympathetic family member. This is not something that will be hard to appreciate for gay members of the audience, especially those who have had to cope with similar inhospitality and homophobia.  And the fictional George and Jim, as well as the real life Chris and Don, would still not be able to marry in today’s California.

But, politics aside, the movie is excellent and reminiscent of both “Lost in Translation” and “The Visitor” in terms of capturing a mood and a moment in the life of a middle aged man who no longer expects to form the type of personal connections he has previously. It would make an interesting double-header with the character study of middle-aged isolation, albeit more self-inflicted, depicted by George Clooney in the similarly excellent “Up in the Air.”(A Single Man” opens January 8th)

Leap Year

Directed by Anand Tucker
“Leap Year” features Matthew Goode again (see above), who is good again, this time alongside the delightful Amy Adams (“Julie and Julia,” “Doubt,” “Sunshine Cleaning”). Adams plays Anna who, after years of waiting, decides to follow her boyfriend to Ireland to take advantage of an old custom her father has taught her about – the right of a woman to propose marriage on a ‘leap day.’ I’m not sure if she’s unaware that in modern day America she could do that on any day she chose to (assuming she and her partner aren’t gay of course – see above again). However it serves as a flimsy but serviceable premise for a cute movie. Once in Ireland, she encounters Goode’s Declan, a cash-strapped local pub owner who offers to drive her to Dublin after an already disastrous trip from the states.

Last week I commented on expecting “It’s Complicated” to be like “Last Chance Harvey” – a completely unremarkable romantic comedy that works purely because of the stars. “Leap Year” fits that model well, albeit for a younger demographic. Goode and Adams are pleasant to watch and manage to convey convincing chemistry in a comically mismatched way. (Opens January 8th)

Youth in Revolt

Directed by Miguel Arteta
“Youth in Revolt” is the latest movie to star Michael Cera (“Juno,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” “Arrested development”) who, along with Jesse Eisenberg (“Zombieland,” “Adventureland”) has cornered the market on adorable geeky teen characters—as well as on being criticized for not breaking out of that mold. Here Cera plays Nick Twisp, who is desperate for the better things in life – especially foreign films, girls, and sex.  

What is most noteworthy about the film and the role however, and without giving away too much, is that while following his own stereotypical character, Cera also manages to play against the stereotype and does so appealingly. That said, the better ‘youth in revolt’ performance of the week is probably that of Nicholas Hoult in “A Single Man.” It’s also odd to see short animated transitions between scenes that are reminiscent of Cera’s “Paper Heart’ (2009) that used the same device. But still funny. (Opens January 8)

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