The title couldn’t have been more apropos. With this veteran pair of stellular actors placed strongly at its emotional core, “Supernova” brilliantly explodes as powerful and luminous as one could hope for, but instead of bursting with fury and fire, the restraint of the starry project is its most illuminating and magnificent asset. Stanley Tucci (“Julie & Julia“) and Colin Firth (“A Single Man“) find seemingly effortless engagement within this piece of quiet tenderly magic as a couple who have been together, lovingly, for decades. Directed with an elegance and charm worthy of this tremendous cast (not just the two leads), actor-turned-filmmaker, Harry Macqueen (“Hinterland“) delivers an exquisite two-hander with a force that is both heartfelt and quietly mind-blowing. Tucci finds utmost engagement inside Tusker, a respected novelist, and Firth unpacks a complicated Sam, who is both a well known pianist about to return to the stage and the who wraps us up in his care, as they head out on a road trip in a camper van that is as sweetly intimate as the two main characters.
“I want to be remembered for who I was, and not for who I am about to become,” Tucci’s Tusker tells us with utter simplicity, engagement, and compassion, and the complexities are laid bare. This is a story about attachment, love, and loss, played out against a backdrop of British landscape that could make a grown man (or woman or trans person) weep. These two men have fashioned a road trip together. Not just a simple one through the idyllic countryside, but one bathed in memory and tender engagement. They drive north, to see Sam’s sister and her family, their family, really, and also for a concert that Sam will later perform in, a return of sorts, to a career that has taken the backseat because of Tucker’s early-onset dementia diagnosis. The way they gaze at each other and the way they are together simply and authentically, well, it’s a thing of subtle beauty. We can see their love and desire for one another mapped out across the heavens and within their eyes. It’s a truly touching and heartbreaking rendering, one that becomes increasingly deep and unimaginably touching as the film rolls forward down that long and winding road.
The scenery is as gorgeous and rich as the performances are, easily matching the exquisite making of this film, thanks to the tender skilled work of cinematographer Dick Pope (“Secrets & Lies“) and screenwriter Macqueen. The script finds compassion in every turn, even in the moments of loss and lost when the life they had expected to live is shown to be forever out of their reach. The reading of the speech by the other is a spectacular switch, adding a level of heartbreak to an already beautiful moment. The sideway glances and carefully crafted stances, as they look out into the heavens, reverberate with gentle intimate connection, causing us to surrender our souls to these two, wishing to savior, as they surely do, each moment they get to spend together before the inevitable drives one away from the other.
“Supernova”, for all its heartfelt lushness and connection, never fails us by being overly ripe or dramatic. It plays the music of their lives together as tenderly as when Firth delivers that touching musical wakeup call. There is nothing forced here, or overtly melodramatic, which is remarkable as this terrible disease, as we have seen in numerous other films, can be overwhelmed by its need for high drama. But here in this stunning film, the restraint that Macqueen delivers is the true gift, and the performances, including those brilliant actors playing Sam’s friends and family; Pippa Haywood, Ian Drysdale, Sarah Woodward, and James Dreyfus to name a few, are the simple unsentimental wrappings of that perfect little gift.
“If you had one wish in the world, what would it be?” The answer lies deep inside Tucci and Firth, who find their way with an unknowable energy towards the ever approaching end of the road. Their chemistry sparkles with sweet simplicity, with Tucci finding wonderful amusement in Sam’s ever so dry Britishness. It feels like we can see their history road-mapped out together in every line on the page and in every gesture these two consummate actors make. Are we given a deeper understanding of their pain and complicated loss? I’m not so sure, as this disease will ultimately destroy a bond that we now cherish, and force the impossible on to the survivor, but I’m also convinced this wasn’t quite the point. The point is to discover what their shared love and attachment really means, even when the approaching darkness seems hurtful and inevitable with loss being a musical score each and everyone will have to take in, one way or another. For that, I’m truly grateful, especially that I was given the chance to join them as a secret fly on the van’s wall for their final roadtrip forward into whatever “Supernova” lays ahead.
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