Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Single (Gay) Man

We should be flush with Oscar-bait movies and I guess we are, but they seem to lack a certain majesty. Or even modicum of interest. I suppose Avatar will sweep, since it combines the right politics with big budget and big success. (I will see it. Eventually. I guess.)

We haven't been able to muster up the interest in seeing The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus so The Boy opted for the other seemingly, potentially, might-be-good A Single Man. We didn't know much about it other than being the story of a widower trying to get through his day.

Being the sort of heteronormative guy that I am, and seeing Julianne Moore on the poster, I jumped to the conclusion that his wife had died. But no, it was his partner. His young, male partner.

While Cartman may not be correct that indie movies are all about "gay cowboys eating pudding"—an observation made years before Brokeback Mountain—there was a time about five years ago where it seemed like every indie movie had to have a subplot with a gay character.

Now, not so much. And it's preferable to have a main gay character if that's the story you want to tell. So, props there, even if minus a few points for the stealth ad campaign.

Expectations were not exactly high. This is a movie about a guy moping. Part The Constant Gardener (without the massively stupid drug plot), part Hamlet's soliloquy, you've got about 100 minutes of "to be or not to be, for a broken heart".

Colin Firth plays a college professor (looked like UCLA) in 1962 who's lost his partner of 17 years (they met during post-WWII celebrations). Eight months has passed and he's still racked with grief, and as when we meet him, he's making preparations for his own demise.

Well, gay or not, it's not exactly an exciting story. And it's rather indulgent, like Constant Gardener, but it comes in well under 2 hours which means that you only get a little tired of the slow-mo and flashes of imagery. It also wasn't as oppressively bleak as you might think, either.

There seemed to be a modern sensibility imposed on the story from time-to-time, but nothing too heavy-handed to me.

Strengths: Performances by Colin Firth and Julianne Moore as the woman who loves him; A lush score by Pole Abel Korzeniowski, who also scored the moody Tickling Leo; confident direction; not overlong.

There were some weaknesses, too. It's a very static film; the main character is hung up between living and dying. You can't get much more static than that. But The Boy was particularly insightful and loquacious.

He said the problem wasn't that the main character was gay, but that was all he was. We didn't learn anything about him except that he was gay. No hobbies. Nothin'.

Well, yeah. Good point, kid.

Truth be told, if I'd known it was about a gay man, I probably wouldn't have gone to see it. As well as directors, certain themes are particularly overrated (to my mind) relative to others. Alcoholism and drug addiction, homosexuality or sexual deviance, anti-American, etc. Not to say these movies can't be good, or that this one isn't good, just that it tends to result in inflated evaluations.

Where would I put it? It's...okay. The ending is such an "art movie" cliché, it reminded me of all these horror movies where everyone dies. And somehow, it comes off not as pretentious as it seems like it ought to. It's often touching and of course very intimate.

But as The Boy points out, it doesn't do the leg-work as far as characterization goes to build the sentiment properly.

Now I can see there being an exception, if you're a 50-60+ year old gay man. You might really be able to relate in a way that needs no further detail.

That's another one of those niche markets.


  1. So, a better contender for DVD than in-theatre?

    Tonight, DH will see Avatar (which I have no desire to see) while I take son to the chipmunks thing (which I don't want to see either ... but since I didn't want to see it less than my husband didn't want to see it--got that?--I agreed to be the one to step up).

    Well, the guys'll be happy. Me, I'm looking forward to the part where we go out for burgers beforehand and I don't have to cook dinner tonight after all.

    ; )

  2. The lack of self-respect exhibited by filmmakers who "celebrate" grief never fails to amaze me.

    Unfortunately their audience consists of many young impressionable kids who go away after viewing these films under the sway of self-indulgence rather than the self-control with is the only ticket to a life that can be looked back on without shame.

    How's that for pompous?


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