Most people are not drawn to the sadness in others. If anything, it’s off-putting. Possibly because, in the present moment, despair is the norm. But in the sixties, it was something of a novelty to see the melancholy of another person out in the open. That is why the magnetism of Colin Firth in A Single Man is so winsome. Set against the backdrop of that time period, it appears out of the ordinary. In 1962 (the year in which A Single Man takes place), things continued to be on the up and up in the United States, despite the dormant threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Families still ate well-balanced meals together, the engine of advertising accelerated the consumerist nature of the American, and little girls with blonde pigtails still existed. In this climate of extremist normalcy, there was no place in the world for a middle-aged Englishman mourning the loss of his life partner, except, of course, in the secreted area of Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles. But even there, the life of a gay man was to be primarily clandestine.

George Falconer (Colin Firth) is just that man, unable to overcome the emotional upheaval wrought by losing his boyfriend of sixteen years, Jim (Matthew Goode), to a car accident. George’s sorrow is displayed through the filmically eloquent visual renderings of the manifoldly talented Tom Ford, who even makes a scene in which Colin Firth takes a shit seem compelling.

The presence of the prehistoric version of a fag hag is played with the aplomb and 1960s glamour that only Julianne Moore could give the role. As George’s friend Charlotte, Moore exemplifies so well why there are a great many women apt to fall in love with a gay man even though they know better, even though they know there’s just no hope of ever turning them on to women.

Although the narrative includes numerous flashbacks, the entire story takes place in one day, the day that George goes about the menial tasks of settling one’s affairs before killing himself. He goes to the college where he teaches, discovering from one of the office secretaries that a student asked for his address and she gave it to him (oh, the trust between humans in early 1960s California). That student, we learn, is Kenny, new to the gay scene and looking to George for some sort of guidance that he feels no one else can impart. In fact, George seems to draw quite a bit of attention to himself on the day of his planned suicide, winning the unexpected affections of Carlos (a Spanish hustler from Madrid) outside of a liquor store and Jennifer, the blonde pigtailed daughter of George's neighbor (referred to above).

All of the seemingly humdrum events and interactions of the day interrupt George's bout of abjection, leading to a not so coincidental encounter with Kenny at the bar where George first met Jim. The two share an obvious connection as they wax on about the strange absurdity of life. But, based on this new beginning, the ending is not what one would have imagined, and yet, it possesses the perfect tinge of irony.

For Tom Ford, a debut film such as this firmly establishes him as a credible filmmaker, with the benefits of a predilection for costume design and color accentuation. The only dilemma for Ford now is, how the fuck is he going to top himself?