Friday, February 5, 2021

Supernova (2021): A Review (Review #1454)


The end of a long-time relationship is a very painful thing both for the one leaving and the one left behind. Supernova is an exploration of the difficult parting death brings, and if not for a bit of a slow start I might think better of it.

Longtime partners Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are embarking on a road trip across the British Lake District. Sam, a pianist of renown, has a concert date booked shortly after his birthday and his novelist partner Tusker are enjoying this brief interlude before he goes back on stage.

That, however, is not the only reason for this little sojourn. Tusker is suffering from early-onset dementia and as his mental acuity starts to fade they want to be together for as long as possible. On this trip, they go visit Sam's sister Lily (Pippa Haywood) who throws a surprise birthday party for him organized by Tusker.

It is here though that Sam discovers Tusker's plans for his future self which don't involve Sam. The heartache and drama of this tear at them both. It is now decision time for both Sam and Tusker as to how their love story will end.

As I watched Supernova, I think audiences may find the beginning a bit frustrating, as if they were wandering around the same way Sam and Tusker were. You get hints of Tusker's condition such as when an alarmed Sam finds Tusker has wandered off and has no real idea where he is. You also hear it when Tusker admits removing his medication before leaving and referring to a taped recording as "Dementia Radio". 

As a side note, I kept hearing the name as "Tosca" versus "Tusker". I minor detail, but there it is.

By the time we get to Lily's home, one is relieved to be among other people. It means that the long-established relationship between Sam and Tusker won't be the focus. It's a curious thing that despite Supernova playing like a two-person play the film doesn't fully come alive until we get to see them with others.  

It is also here where we start seeing Firth and Tucci give exceptionally strong performances. We see the quiet nature of their personalities when Sam has to read a speech Tusker wrote in honor of his longtime partner. The quiet recitation of Tusker's words of love and pride by Sam coupled with Tusker's obvious pride in both his words and the sentiment is a sign their strengths as actors.

It is also a sign of writer/director Harry Macqueen's debut. Another strong moment is when Sam and Tusker quietly yet forcefully confront each other about Tusker's secret decision and Sam's reaction to it over what is meant to be a nice intimate dinner.

We see through their performances the agony of eventual separation between the two lovers. Firth is emotional without being hysterical, with Tucci as a nice counterbalance with his quiet resignation. Supernova is among their best work: quiet, elegant and mostly not showy. 

However, as good as these moments are, sometimes they do come across as a filmed play versus actual life. In this same scene, one senses that they are not living out this deep drama but acting it. The dialogue does not help Supernova overcome its sense of theatrical.

"You're still the same guy," Lily tells Tusker. "No I'm not," Tusker tells her quietly. "I just look like him". Tusker's efforts at a joke by adding "Which is a shame" don't land as well as they could.

Neither does Tusker telling Lily's daughter about how humans are made up of star particles and how he doesn't want to be a passenger in life. I figure it wasn't Macqueen's intention to bring up memories of both Moby's We Are All Made of Stars and Iggy Pop's The Passenger, but he did nonetheless with his dialogue. 

Supernova is also complimented by Keaton Henson's elegant score and Dick Poe's beautiful cinematography, though perhaps as beautiful as both are they too are a bit too removed for this story. Both of them are lovely to look at, but they can still be a bit chilly at what is meant as a deep, moving love story.

Supernova might, I think, try some audiences' patience by its slow start, but once we see Sam and Tusker engage with people outside themselves it will be worth the trip. 


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