Friday, March 5, 2010

Movies: A Single Man

Tom Ford is undoubtedly one of the best fashion designers of our time, perhaps of all times. What he did for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche ten years ago was revelatory. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for his directorial debut. What he has done for film is surprisingly tedious and indulgent. Or perhaps not so surprising, for what is high fashion if not indulgent, and what is a feature-length commercial for fine wool if not tedious?

For that is what this movie is: a feature-length advertisement (I could say indulgence, but I will be crude and say advertisement) for fine men's fashion, accessories, and housewares. Buried behind the fabric there is something of a story of lost love—gay love, it is key to acknowledge—but whatever might have moved us has been styled into something so trite that we feel little empathy for our stuffy, British, gay Colin Firth, aptly called George as all Englishmen not called Colin must be called.

George lives his last day in his Architectural Digest home (its minimalist, eco-extravagance explained in a throwaway line about Jim, his lost lover, having been an architect), having flashbacks of his carefree lover. As I've lamented here before (incidentally, another gay tale*), structuring a film through flashback often leads to the sensation that we are watching a series of lifestyle commercials, rather than a coherent, meaningful film. Jim, a character with little more interior than an Abercrombie & Fitch model (who, in fact, seems to be modeled on the gay fantasy of the straight Abercrombie boy). George, conversely, has stepped out of the pages of an Ishiguro novel, with his fastidious suits, crisply folded papers, and sharp linens; never as comfortable with his homosexuality as Jim was, George has long ago slept with a woman (his dear friend Charley, a besotted Julianne Moore), and cannot get over his dead partner by simply going to bed with the Spanish James Dean he meets in the liquor store parking lot.

But the film's ultimate resolution, in which it is in fact another young man's interest that rekindles George's will to live (that of one of his doe-eyed students), ensures us that his grief isn't incurable. How lucky that he was too concerned about the spotlessness of his bedclothes to actually shoot the swallowed gun-barrel at the film's extended anti-climax. But, how unlucky that, waking in the morning hungover from too much Scotch, he dies of a sudden heart attack.

Ford takes not only directorial and production credits, but also shares writing credits with David Scearce, someone else who has never written a movie. That's a lot of responsibility for a filmmaker. Greats like Woody Allen and the Coens do this regularly, but Ford is unseasoned. Indeed, his film is beautifully art-directed and shot, but that, combined with its episodic structure, and lack of any real depth, prevents it from being anything more than a living, breathing fashion editorial. Ford could easily cull 60- and 90-second sections of the film as television spots for his new men's line, and perhaps that was just his intention.

*Allow me to clarify: I do love a gay love story, from the American cowboys in Brokeback Mountain to the impossible relationship between an Israeli and a Palestinian in The Bubble. I hate going to the ballet because the celebrated couples are so tediously hetero-normative (how I long for Gay Swan Lake!). What I find so disappointing about Ford's film is that it wastes an opportunity. Its attention to surface at the expense of depth reinforces detrimental stereotypes about an entire subculture struggling for equality and acceptance. Not only is Ford a bad filmmaker, he is a bad gay.

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