A Single Man and the Nowhere Boy

Posted by Lou. The time is 7.25pm here in London, UK.

The best adjective I can think of for A Single Man is distinguished. As you would expect from a fashion designer, Tom Ford has given us a beautiful (visually) piece of cinema. As you may not expect from a fashion designer turned first-time filmmaker, he has also given us a beautiful (emotionally) piece of cinema. This is one cross-over I hope marks a career change as it is an absolutely fantastic - and under-recognised (*coughUpInTheAircough*) - directorial debut.

Also fantastic is Colin Firth. Now, I know that you know that I love Colin Firth solely and wholeheartedly for giving us The Darcy, but please don't think this is praise rooted in a biased desire to love him in this. He is honestly better than I thought he could be. If he was George Clooney they would have already engraved his name on the Oscar a month ago. His performance is surprisingly perfect (apparently also a surprise to him based on his BAFTA acceptance speech where he confessed having almost pulled out thinking he couldn't do it), and stands out even beyond the wet shirt scene Darcy as being his career high.

Set in one day in 1962 Los Angeles, Colin [he lets me call him Colin (when we're in bed he let's me call him Darcy*)] plays an English Professor unable to come to terms with having lost his (male) partner to a car accident several months before. As he tries to navigate one last day of his numbing present his overriding sense of sentimentalism finds meaning to each and every interaction, be it with a neighbour, complete stranger, best friend, or student. It is a deep and touching story told with exquisite style and one I very much recommend you treat yourself to. (I'm saying little about it as it's both very character-driven (so there isn't much to say of plot), and it's so well-told visually that you just need to see it.)

There are two further things beyond the qualities of the film itself that that make it such a stand-out for me. When Brokeback Mountain blazed a trail just a few years ago, the hope was that soon a film could be a love story between gay men without it having to be A Thing - that the being gay wasn't the story itself. I feel like this is that film. It is specific to the fact that he is a gay man, but it is not about the fact that he is a gay man. Hurrah, and may many more follow. Secondly, from the perspective of being a heterosexual woman this film is notable for the fact that it is one of the few that capture the beauty of men, losing the heterosexual-male gaze that the majority of cinema is and has historically been shot from. Overall the film is made with close attention to aesthetics, but it is most notably cast upon the men on-screen - from Colin himself to an impossibly beautiful man you feel blessed to have cast eyes upon. Again: hurrah, and may many more follow.

*Disclaimer: Lou has never met Colin. (Though did come across his home address in the course of professional duties once. (But didn't write it down. (Honest.)))

PS: I didn't much mention the supporting cast, but have to say that I was absolutely stunned to discover that his student is played by the boy who was Marcus in About a Boy. Who'd've thunk!


Colin isn't the only man I love, and Tom Ford isn't the only cross-over artist making their directorial debut. Nowhere Boy is a film about my beloved John Lennon's troubled adolescence, made by high-profile British photographer/ conceptual artist Sam Taylor-Wood. And happily, I can add to the list of things in common that A Single Man isn't the only film that twists the traditional gaze of cinema... Aaron Johnson's eyelashes, soft skin and physicality are certainly gazed upon by the sensual lens of his (heterosexual female) Director*.

The story is well known: In late-50s Liverpool John is a rebellious teddy boy living with his mother's sister "Aunt Mimi" and his beloved uncle. After the sudden death of his uncle he regains close contact with his mother Julia, who introduces him to rock-n-roll. He starts a band, meets Paul, and... well, we'd love to say that the rest is history from there, but unfortunately tragedy interrupts first.

The heart of this story - surprisingly - is the relationship of two sisters. Kristin Scott Thomas is good as Aunt Mimi, but Anne-Marie Duff is spectacular as Julia. Her Julia is a seductive figure for John, fun and tactile and out-of-control, in total contrast to the prim and ordered and controlling Aunt Mimi who wrestles against her effect on John. The filmmaker is highly sympathetic to both, squarely positioning Julia as bi-polar, and Aunt Mimi as controlling by necessity. Instead of going down the tempting and all-too-easy road of giving us a misunderstood genius, she has seen behind him to the women in his life and provided a compelling story of their struggle to reconcile their relationships to him and each other.

And yet... I didn't love it. Even though I saw this film weeks ago and even though I love John and am absolutely interested in his early-life, I've sat down several times to write a review here of the film and found myself totally uninspired. A Single Man is its perfect companion in one more way then: it showed me the distinguishing x factor that Nowhere Boy lacks. It is a good film with some good performances, but without the excellence of A Single Man that might make it more memorable and more of a quintessential portrayal of The Boy That Became John Lennon.

*They are now engaged and pregnant - another nice skew of traditional filmmaker-actor gender relations!

2 thoughts on “A Single Man and the Nowhere Boy”

  1. Ooooh this SO makes me want to see both films!!

    And funny that Anne-Marie Duff is also preggers - what was going on during the making of that movie?! ;)

  2. Ooooh this SO makes me want to see both films!!

    And funny that Anne-Marie Duff is also preggers - what was going on during the making of that movie?! ;)