There is a delicate moment in Supernova where Stanley Tucci looks upon the constellations above him and tells a young girl that we are made of stardust, crafted from stars which have lived, burned, and been scattered across the earth, eventually fading away from their shine.
The star metaphor may be used somewhat heavy-handedly in Harry Macqueen’s Supernova. But it does not mean its stars don’t burn so brightly and move you like the galaxies above.
Starring Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, Supernova revolves around Tusker and Sam, a couple taking a round trip across the English countryside so Sam, a concert pianist, can perform one last time. Along the way, they meet family members and see the sights. However, famed author Tusker has been sadly diagnosed with dementia. Bit by bit, he is losing himself and both are aware of it. The road trip, then, serves as a journey for them to rediscover their relationship and look into the future, no matter what that may bring.
Tucci and Firth, in their woollies and wellies, drive this movie. Their heartfelt performances lovingly convey a story of loss, identity, and grief and they are absolutely divine together. In fact, their chemistry as Tusker and Sam is interwoven and indelible, to the extent that it is somewhat maddening they are not a real couple outside of the screen. That is beside the point. Though it may take you a while to shed these famed faces, Firth and Tucci get into the crux of this decades long marriage that is crumbling away bit by bit through no fault of their own. Different in mannerisms and personalities – a humbler, unimposing Sam and a showboat, hilarious Tusker – the pair feel like a real couple. Little quibbles on single beds to sharing memories, Tucci, Firth, and, indeed, Macqueen’s script convey a realistic couple that lives and breathes off the screen.
Which makes the moments of pain and anguish feel all that too real also. Tucci’s Tusker is the more outspoken and fun of the pair, yet his eyes convey the sadness of a man unprepared to lose himself. In moments, his voice quivers or the tears break, swinging that emotional sword down upon the audience. Yet it is Colin Firth’s Sam who twangs your heart the most. At times, he feels woefully naïve as he tries to confront what Sam is going through. He haphazardly clings on to their life without confronting the fact that it is slipping away from him. Firth grasps at this longing: A man who wants to hold onto his husband’s life, never mind the pain that would bring to them both. The Academy Award winner is astonishing, turbulent without leaning into over-sentimental oscar-bait performances.
The direction is quiet as the script meditates on the questions: When do you let a loved one go? When do you fight for life? What happens to our family after we go?
These questions are answered intimately and sometimes silently, with a look, a glance, a hand touch, saying more than tapes and letters ever could.
Traipsing along the wet and wondrous English country, gorgeously captured by cinematographer Dick Pope, Supernova may at times feel a little too quaint with lines a little too staged. However, with two award-worthy performances, Supernova bursts with love and life, moving you like the galaxies above.
Supernova plays as part of BFI London Film Festival on 11th October
It hits cinemas 27th November