A tender and greatly acted drama about dementia, Supernova announces the sophomore feature from talented writer-director,Harry MacQueen (Hitlerland.) Slated for a limited theatrical release, and a VOD release in early February, Supernova could be an Oscar contender at this year’s delayed Academy Awards. Working with the paradigm of being a lofty drama about a distressing subject, in this case, about a writer named Tusker (Stanley Tucci) who has dementia who travels across the countryside of Great Britain with his husband Sam (Colin Firth) in a RV, as they plan on revisiting places they been together before, Supernova centers on the hardships dementia can bring for a married couple and the agony that result from the horrible disease.
Bolstering sharp character depth, natural dialogue, and some of the most notable performances from Firth and Tucci, Supernova is a wonderful addition into LGBTQ cinema. The subject matter recalls other films about the same terminal illness and the hardships that arise, such as Still Alice and most recently The Father which opens Feb 19th. Set over the course of a week, the story chronicles how much heartbreak and joy can bring between two love people dealing with such obstacles.
The tale of two people attempting to find calmness and enjoy their final moments together before Tusker’s memory completely fades away, but Tucker’s own despair and his contemplations of enduring dementia bring a lot of dynamics in which he feels no matter what that Sam is going to suffer. For Sam, Tucker’s disease is certainly a challenge, but he is determined to stay with him until the very end where Tusker feels Sam doesn’t deserve the inevitable responsibility of being his caretaker. Highly engaging and contemplative, qualities associated with being a British drama, as well as being a polished and adequately directed film that is a complete acting showcase of both the leads of Firth and Tucci.
Often many films about LGBTQ issues are about the struggles of identity, a film like “Supernova” utilizes the elements of a conventional drama and shows with great nuance how these issues are universal and a great reminder how evolved cinema has become in the last 15-20 years. The film feels very genuine as well, even though Firth and Tucci are heterosexuals actors playing a gay married couple, the film is very delicate and authentic that never feels like it was made from an outsider’s gaze.
The film hits mostly the right notes, one where MacQueen delivers the proper care and attention to his characters and details. The film has many warm and inviting moments, as well as some other tensions that consist of comical bickering and heartbreaking exchanges. Despite an overall dry tone that falls into some melodramatic and sentimental detours, Supernova succeeds away from it as it elevates itself away as it becomes more resonant and unique. The film shows a complex contract in the relationship, how Tusker is actually more in terms of accepting his illness and Sam is much in denial that leads down both men in making some very challenging choices involving their marriage and relationship. While some elements in the narrative get resolved a little too neatly at the end, the film is rendered with enough honest pathos that it never gets too bogged down to schmaltz.
There is one wonderful exchange and dialogue encounter in the film involving Tusker and Sam’s sister, who tries to reassure Tusker, “You’re still you.” If this was a lifetime or big Hollywood movie, it would probably feel very pat and cheesy, however, taking it a step further in MacQueen’s dialogue, Tusker responds “No I’m not. I just look like I am.” As we see the sadness and inevitable sad reality Tusker is soon going to face.
The title of the film is quite metaphorical, as the title refers to the death of a star, which obviously reflects Tusker’s personality as he endures the early stages of onset-dementia. As the film unfolds we see Tusker showing signs of losing him memory. He often has challenging times recalling memories, and he often drifts away and gets lost which leads to Sam tracking him down. While the dialogue passage about Tusker telling his niece about stardust and supernovas feels very forced, Tucci’s delivery of the dialogue and performance is so tender that its easy to forgive the forced writing.
While Firth and Tucci are both straight actors playing gay men, they hit the right emotional notes where I found their relationship to be warm and inviting. While not quite as authentic with its intimate other LGTBQ driven films like Miranda July’s Kajillionaire or Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca, the intimate chemistry and affection between theme seemed a little off, however, both actors pull you in with everything else in terms of exchanges, characterizations, and dialogue. Whether it involves their travels and layovers at placid lakes and other visits with Sam’s family, there is a lot of warmth and tenderness to be found.
Very much an affecting drama, MacQueen gives both Firth and Tucci a lot of layers and character depth. The acting, particularly by the leads of Tucci and Firth are superb. Tucci, who proved he has the talent for artistry in the 1996 American independent masterpiece Big Night that he also co-wrote and co-directed with Campbell Scott was a revelation of his gifts, and Tucci once again delivers a stunningly rich performance, and this is Firth at his best since The King’s Speech.
While Supernova may have difficult subject matter, the material never feels too bleak or harsh. If anything, the film is surely worthy of your time as it’s a fragile and measured drama that examines the impact dementia has on individuals and their spouses. This is all done with sympathy and nobility.