Following his critically acclaimed 2015 debut, Hinterland (2014), writer, director, and actor Harry Macqueen released his second feature, Supernova. The film had its world premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 2020 to rave reviews. Supernova is an understated drama that isn’t as cosmic as the title suggests, but is instead a more grounded story of love and loss that maintains its authenticity and heart throughout.
Supernova follows, a loving couple of 20 years, Sam ( Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), as they embark on a journey through the English countryside revisiting family, old friends, and past places long since forgotten, as the two attempt to cope with Tusker’s slow descent into early-onset dementia.
Supernova’s greatest strength lies in its casting.
Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are everything the internet has been waiting for! Their on-screen chemistry makes the story all the more devastating.
Tucci shines as Tusker, a star-gazing author battling dementia. He is a character that struggles to maintain control and through that makes a life changing decision. Tucci brings his classic charm but is muted by the grave tone of the film. He offers quick moments of much-needed levity.
Firth plays the loyal Sam, Tusker’s pianist husband. He’s taken time off from music to be with Tusker full time. Firth is extremely vulnerable and gives a breathtaking performance. For me he stole the show. We have the opportunity to visit a vulnerability by Firth that we haven’t seen that often. He has a knack for playing emotionally reserved and closed off characters ( Bridget Jones’ Darcy) There’s a controlled softness that’s interesting to watch.
The dialogue was clumsy and restrained, which adds to the authenticity of the performances. They bicker and bite and it feels honest especially with Tucci and Firth’s real-world 20 plus year long friendship bubbling below the surface and translating onscreen through their performances.
This mournful film gives us an intimate look at the rippling effects of an unforgiving illness. Throughout the film dementia isn’t even mentioned. Simply alluded to and vaguely referenced, but the impact is felt all the same. The narrative isn’t spoonfed to us. There are no exposition dumps, we are on a journey of discovery with these characters and the story continues to unravel and unfold. The film has this recurring sense of unraveling. Like a thread is being tugged and pulling the characters in two. Firth’s Sam is unraveling, convinced he has to carry the weight of the world and the burden of his partner’s pain, but we watch as his mask of strength starts to crack. The story unravels as they visit all of these places and pieces of their past, we see everything come together and fall apart.
Tucci’s Tusker unravels, as his mind and state of being becomes foreign. He’s a writer that can’t find the words anymore and he’s determined to take control of what’s left of his life.
The cinematography was chalk full of close-ups and two-shots. The color was muted, except for when we got to get the lay of the land. The beauty is found in the simplicity of the film. Much like the characters, the film holds on with longer scenes, the beats of silence between the characters, and more. The beauty of the juxtaposition of the vast, seemingly infinite stretch of road around them versus the caravan they inhibit for most of the film. The intimacy of the van versus the scope of the setting sets the tone for the film.
The film lulls and drags at moments. The film did not feel conscious, it felt vague and abstract, like a memory. This feeling is coupled with the soundtrack and the cinematography makes the movie feel forgettable. It doesn’t give it much longevity. This movie was made to be felt and experienced, and that both helps and hinders it. Tender to a fault, at times. The revelation of the story is dealt as more of a soft blow.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Supernova is an intimate road trip film trekking the winding paths of love, loss, and mortality. Beautifully but at times statically shot. It is carefully directed and naturally written. Macqueen clearly created from a place of truth, while Firth and Tucci expertly delivered on screen. At times the film lulled and lagged, and some of the tenderness lost its touch in moments. This languid and abstract feeling of the film leaves little room for it to be memorable beyond the credits, but it sure will be felt and experienced as you take this journey with the characters.