R, 93 mins.
2021, R, 93 mins.
Colin Firth as Sam / Stanley Tucci as Tusker / James Dreyfus as Tim / Pippa Haywood as Lilly / Sarah Woodward as SueWritten and directed by Harry Macqueen
There's nothing in life more emotionally deflating than knowing that a loved one is slowly dying and there's little you can do to prevent it or numb their pain.
SUPERNOVA makes for a compelling companion film to this year's FALLING in the sense that both deal with the debilitating effects that dementia has not only on the sufferer, but also on those caring and concerned family members that try to tend to the needs of the afflicted on a daily basis.
concerned the core relationship between a gay man and his toxically
homophobic - and dementia ailing - father, SUPERNOVA deals with a
sixtysomething gay couple attempting to cope with one of them burdened
with it and with no hope for recovery in sight.
Both films do an equally fine job at highlighting how dementia can
change a once functioning family dynamic for the worse, but the sick
character in SUPERNOVA is far younger than the one affected in FALLING,
which adds another layer of tragedy to the proceedings.
In terms of delving into issues of mortality and the nagging
uncertainty of death to come, SUPERNOVA packs a sizeable dramatic punch,
which is quarterbacked by two of the finest performances of their
respective careers by Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth as the aforementioned
One other area
that SUPERNOVA deviates away from FALLING is that it's also a road trip
drama. Tucci and Firth play
Tusker and Sam, a couple that have been happily together for decades and,
in their own way, are decorated scholars (Tusker is a respected novelist
and Sam is a prominent musician). Tusker,
an American, has spent the better part of two decades in England to be
with the man that has loved and supported him in his endeavors, but when
he's given the horrible diagnosis of early onset dementia both he and Sam
are forced to come to grips that their marriage is going to fundamentally
change and that their time left together is waning by the day.
With both of their careers put on hold, the couple decides that the
best therapy for their souls is to take their camper van for a long trip
up north to take in the sights and eventually visit Sam's sister and her
family. With the unavoidable
fact of Tusker's eminent passing wearing down hard on them, both men want
to spend as much worthwhile time as they can...while they still can. They are dealt with a few crushing obstacles early on in
their journey, like Tusker purposely leaving his meds back home and that
his condition is rapidly deteriorating. This shocks the rightfully alarmed
Sam, but in Tusker's mind his prescriptions are doing very little outside
of slightly delaying the inevitable.
One of the things
that's abundantly apparent very early on in SUPERNOVA is that
writer/director Harry Macqueen allows us to immediately be placed within
the tight and intimate relationship between these men.
As their trip starts to take shape in the opening sections of the
film they partake in frivolous chit-chat, almost in a short-hand kind of
way, which allows for audiences to instantly buy into them as a married
couple for over twenty years. There's
a stark emotional authenticity to these introductory moments - and many
more to come - that's hard to ignore; right from the get-go there's rarely
an instance when you doubt the veracity of their union.
SUPERNOVA may be about a marriage in a state of decline, but you
feel this couple's long-term history in just a few fleeting moments on
screen. It's pretty rare in
modern dramas where the married duo in question come off as genuine as Sam
and Tusker do here. Instead
of seeming like the stagy product of screenwriter's intuition, these
people act, talk, and interact with one another like real family unit
would, even when dealing with the painful realities of one's illness.
Of course, there
would be no film whatsoever if we didn't have deeply committed actors
leading the way, and SUPERNOVA is routinely well represented by the likes
of Firth and Tucci. Both
performers makes the roles uniquely their own while simultaneously evoking
a timeless sense of chemistry that the film requires through and through.
I frequently use the term "lived in" in reviews to
capture that believable emotional spectrum that actors bring to the table,
and this is most definitely the case with the leads here.
Firth has always lent a sense of straightforward dignity to his
past roles, and here he plays into his recognizable strengths, but Tucci
here has perhaps the tougher assignment in relaying a man that has given
up on any notion of recovery, but still is deeply heartbroken by it and
keeps everything internalized the best he can under the circumstances.
No more is this apparent then in the film's most dramatically
crushing scene (mid way through) that has Tusker assigned with given a big
speech at a family dinner, but when his condition rears its ugly head Sam
is forced to pinch hit for him and read it word for word...with some of
those words passionately epitomizing Tusker's own devotion for him.
This scene is both pitch perfectly played and unrelentingly sad to
endure all the same.
unmistakable aura of sorrow that permeates through SUPERNOVA.
Both of these men are unwavering in their love for one another, but
fully comprehend that one is at the final stages of losing his battle to a
devastating illness. I'm most
certain that just about any family that watches this film that also has
had to deal with acclimating to a loved one losing their grasp on who they
are and how they relate to others and the world around them will easily
relate and sympathize. And that's the dreary underbelly of dementia: Eventually,
Tusker's love that he has for Sam and all of their wellspring of
experiences will be forgotten by him with a startling finality, which
makes the burden of what's to come unbearable for Sam.
SUPERNOVA is at its best when it hones in on both the defenseless
sick party and the nurturing spouse that's suffering in his own way while
trying to portray a positive minded facade.
As a portrait of acknowledging and accepting one's horrible and
looming fate in life, this film definitely strikes a relatable and deeply
moving chord, even when the story sometimes meanders around too
episodically in search of an ending that's probably not as organically
strong as it wants to be.