I usually love this kind of movie. I love Antonioni, I love Before Sunset, I love pensive, free-form “day in the life” movies that capture existential angst. I love them because they manage to hit the “big questions” (“what’s the point of life?”) while manipulating the medium to evoke the very magic we’re all chasing: what can feel more soulful than Antonioni’s meditative camera, which creates so much room for naturalistic performances, subtle body dialogue between actors, long stretches of meaningful silence and raw moments of spontaneous aliveness? With A Single Man, however, Tom Ford leaves absolutely no room for this kind of organic life. Every shot is dressed up within an inch of its life. It’s a clusterfuck of expressionistic lighting, changing film stocks, slow motion, and premeditated action. There is no spontaneity, there is no rawness, there is no quirkiness to undercut its arty pretension. The closest it gets is the centerpiece scene between Colin Firth and Julianne Moore – and, more specifically, their dancing – but that is the merest flash of magic in a movie that doesn’t seem to trust itself, its actors or us to pick up on any kind of unspoken, intuitive meaning. But my main issue is Tom Ford’s unwillingness to dig deep into his premise for something real. Even Before Sunset, which is a much clumsier grandchild to Antonioni, manages to create actual dramatic conflict from its philosophical underpinnings: we understand the price Ethan Hawke would have to pay to take a chance on love again, we understand the heartache Julie Delpy would have to feel to do the same, and in that conflict, Linklater captures the tragic sense of what it is to realize your life has passed you by and why it’s such a huge leap of faith to reach out for that last surviving glimmer of romantic hope and possibility. By contrast, A Single Man does not give me any true sense of what it means to “live in the moment”: What are the risks? What would I have to be willing to feel? What emotional safety would I have to be willing to forego? There is a lot of dialogue (a lot of dialogue) about letting go of the past but the movie ultimately lacks that pull toward a real climax that truly embodies Colin’s dilemma: he dies just as haphazardly as he discovers life. The lack of specificity about what’s truly at stake for Colin in these final moments – and, by extension, what’s at stake for all of us at every moment – voids A Single Man of the kind of universality necessary to get away with its heavy gravity.