- Released Internationally on 11/12/09
- Released in Malta by KRS on 24/03/10
In a nutshell
Colin Firth gives one of the best performances of 2009 as George Falconer, a gay English professor living in 1960s Los Angeles, trying to get through another interminable day after the tragic death of his partner of sixteen years.
A day in the life
George hates waking up, but not just in the lazy, duvet-loving way familiar to most of us - he feels real pain on having to face another day without the love of his life. The film opens with him dreaming about the recent car accident that claimed the life of Tim (Matthew Goode – Match Point, Watchmen) and one of the couple’s beloved dogs. We only get to know Tim through flashbacks, as numerous trivial events and items in George’s day bring back painful memories of happier times. But after a brief introduction to George and his morning routine, he clearly states that ‘today I have decided will be different’. So begins probably the most important day in his life, and one of the better character studies to grace the screen in recent memory.
To divulge more of the plot details might detract from the subtle joy of watching George’s day unfold, so I’ll just add that it manages to remain interesting and often enigmatic throughout, largely due to Firth’s performance. The film feels just the right length for its focused subject matter, and the all important black screen signalling the end arrived at the perfect moment, as opposed to many other good films I can remember where I still wished it had arrived a little earlier or a few scenes later. The script skilfully tackles issues of love, loss and finding clarity, and the fact that the couple in question consists of two men is relevant only in that it adds a layer of isolation to George, and possibly a layer of novelty or unease to the audience.
Where the film excels, however, is in the style department. Without taking anything away from the story, acting or issues at its core, it is how these are wrapped up and presented that elevates the film above other similar films. The film marks the directing debut of renowned fashion designer Tom Ford, who also financed and produced the film, and helped adapt the book on which the script is based. It is therefore maybe inevitable that the film looks so great. Set in 1962, the attention to detail is evident in every shot. George himself is clearly a perfectionist – he even knows how he would want his tie knotted for his own funeral - and his lifestyle permits him to dress and live in impeccable style. The cold war era is recreated both at his lavish but now achingly empty home, as well as his neighbourhood and the campus where he works. Each room could have come out of a design catalogue, yet they only feel cold and empty when Ford wants them to, also thanks to his playful and unashamedly obvious use of colour.
The way in which the necessary information is unveiled is brilliantly subtle. We need no unnatural voiceovers or retrospective montages to glean everything we need to know about George, and to understand why this day is so difficult to get through. The flashbacks of his time with Tim help, but even they are written in such a natural way that you hardly notice how well we are getting to know George. The rest is dropped lightly and seamlessly into his daily interactions, and over the course of a seemingly routine day we are drawn into this wonderful character, in such a way that the ending unfolds superbly.
Who’s in it?
Colin Firth (Bridget Jones’ Diary, Love Actually, Mamma Mia!) is perfect for the main role, and has us in the palm of his hand throughout. Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, The Hours) is Charley, a past love and now good friend of George’s, who despite being discarded by a husband and a son still cannot comprehend what George is going through. One of his students, however, the insightful Kenny (Nicholas Hoult, who has grown up since starring in About A Boy), may just be the one person who senses George’s isolation. Jon Kortajarena, the face that has sold tonnes of clothes and perfumes, has a brief but significant encounter with George, and gets the best line in the film.
In the end
Released in select locations towards the end of last year, when Avatar was stealing all the headlines, this film was slowly unveiled worldwide around Oscar time, when Firth was getting just praise for his starring role. In its own quiet, sophisticated way, it is filmmaking of the highest order, and one of 2009’s best films.