Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Those eyes!

As a movie fan since childhood, I've had one so-called matinee hero after another... Father Ralph Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain) in "The Thorn Birds," Clark Gable in "Gone with the Wind," Cary Grant in "An Affair to Remember" and now, Colin Firth in just about anything.

I first met Mr. Firth (may I call him 'Colin?')a few years ago when A&E aired its series "Pride and Prejudice" and I, like millions of women everywhere, gave their hearts to Fitzwilliam Darcy. After that, it was one film after another, each different in its own way, each owing its appeal to the brilliance of the actor. He's been Mark Darcy to Bridget Jones, Jan Vermeer to the girl with the pearl earring and a poet who is faced with the imminent demise of his father. He's wielded a sword to rescue a Roman emperor, played a cad who despoils a schoolgirl and then leaves her carrying his child and charmed a daughter he never knew he had in "What a Girl Wants." I've seen them and now own them, bought one at a time, until I've amassed a reasonably decent Colin Firth film library. What's the attraction?

Those eyes. The face that he downplays as something less than beautiful, something on which characters can be painted. I say nay, nay! I think I know beautiful. And, be honest, Colin... magazines like "Manhattan" don't give pages of gorgeous head shots to people who aren't beautiful. Still, beauty isn't everything. In the case of Colin Firth, talent trumps everything.

His movie, "A Single Man," for which he's received an Oscar nomination, simply proves my point. A 52-year-old English professor teaching in 1960s L.A., Colin's George Falconer is a textbook neurotic who covers his homosexuality (hardly acceptable in that era) with fastidiousness and reserve. He has just lost his lover of 16 years to a car accident and is struggling to get through what just might be his last day on earth. We see his suffering, his loneliness, his despair. In one scene, he and Jim are curled at opposite ends of the sofa reading with one of their fox terriers resting between them. They are good-naturedly arguing about who will get up to change the record and their ease and comfort with one another speaks volumes about their relationship. After the death of Jim and one of their dogs, George goes to the bank to empty his safe deposit box and comes upon a fox terrier in a car parked outside. He goes to the window and, ever so gently, nuzzles the dog's head, remarking to the dog's owner that "he smells like buttered toast." That little gesture tells the viewer volumes about the depth of his loss. I was the only one in the theater who was crying out loud. In fact, there were only four of us occupying the auditorium, so difficult has it been to find this lovely film playing anywhere.

This Firth performance is brilliant and moving. It is sad and devastating, even as George begins to see the beauty of things around him and perhaps think of an optimistic future. I've seen the movie twice and am about to make it a trio. I am sad that, nominations aside, Colin was passed over for the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild awards in favor of Jeff Bridges' portrayal of a has-been falling-down-drunk country singer in "Crazy Heart."

Any actor worth his salt can play that. Not many could infuse the face of George Falconer with pure grief and grip the hearts of those who come to care about his character. I'm afraid Hollywood will reward family heritage and run-of-the-mill acting while a superb performance like Colin Firth's will lose out. See the film, if you can find it. It's as beautiful as the man who stars in it.

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