Supernova Well-Acted but...



Directed by Harry Macqueen

Bleecker Street, 95 minutes, R (language, adult situations, brief nudity)

★★ ½ 




If you love someone, could you let them go? That's the burning question in Supernova.


Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) have been a gay couple for more than 20 years. Sam, a concert pianist, and Tusker, a writer and amateur astronomer, have led a good life – travel, gourmet food, lively friends, family acceptance, and intimacy. Their world is shattered by Tusker’s diagnosis of early onset dementia.


That's the fulcrum of this heart-versus-mind film. We come in upon a quietly tense and sullen road trip. The mood is set early when we notice that Tusker can’t really read the road map, falls asleep easily, and confesses that he did not bring his medication with him. He tells Sam that they both know it doesn't help, which establishes the central issue: Sam sees, but looks away because he can't bear to admit the truth.


The two are on their way to England's Lake District to revisit a site where they first camped, a prelude to visiting Sam’s sister, Lily (Pippa Haywood) and her husband Clive (Peter MacQueen). The eventual plan is for Sam to make his return to the concert stage. A surprise party reunites Sam with dear friends he hasn't seen in a while, but one of them lets a proverbial cat out of the bag. This and discoveries Sam was supposed to make ex post facto takes us to the crisis point: Tucker plans to commit suicide before he could no longer exercise that option.


I’m not giving away much, as this is pretty much all the film is about. What would you do if you were Sam? You can imagine being strong enough to help those who can't care for themselves and won't even know who you are, but are you? Who gets to choose, those inflicted or those who love them?


Some movies are slow because their plots need time to marinate; Supernova is more like a short story padded to novel length. Frankly, it would've been a better one-act play than a movie.


Two things partially redeem it. First, Dick Pope’s cinematography is glorious. Granted it's easier when you have the Lake District as your backdrop. Pope, though, skillfully exploits its changeable light and weather to match moods demanded by the screenplay.


Second, we need actors the caliber of Firth and Tucci to make the threadbare script work. Sam is a combination of silent rage and fear, his clenched jaw tongue pressed against cheek our tip that he's not really in control. Tucci, by contrast, is calm, rational, and last-hurrah charming. He knows the score and is willing to concede before the last inning is played.


Supernova looks good and is well-acted, but it's a so-so film. In addition to being   stretched to 95 minutes, its title is a contrivance. Tusker explains to a young girl that she is made of star stuff, but what are we to conclude about that? Tusker shows no indication of mysticism of any sort, nor does he connect his stargazing to his portending fate.


There is a more substantive flaw in the film. For a guy who is supposedly in the midst of an inevitable decline, Tusker is too often lucid, logical, and capable of sustained discourse. It would be safe to say that Tusker would have to end his own life, as he would not meet doctor-assisted suicide standards for such a choice. Overall, Tusker’s part is under-written. A clear indication of dementia – absent from the film– is that sufferers recycle the same remarks in exactly the same words. They also have trouble following conversations and are certainly not the life of a party.


See Supernova for its exteriors and to observe how two great actors play off one another. Frankly, though, Sam and Tusker should've been played by gay actors. Firth and Tucci are convincingly tender playing old lovers, but they are decidedly straight.


Supernova will tug at your heart strings, but for a more accurate portrayal of dementia, see superior films such as Away from Her (2006), I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015), Still Alice (2014), and The Father (2020).


Rob Weir

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