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SUPERNOVA (2020) review

January 28, 2021


written by: Harry Macqueen
produced by: Tristan Goligher and Emily Morgan
directed by: Harry Macqueen
rating: R (for language)
runtime: 93 min.
U.S. release date: January 29, 2021 (theaters)


Anyone who has ever admired and appreciated performances from Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth will admire and appreciate “Supernova”, which co-stars both great actors in heartfelt and touching lead roles. Their work here will remind you that when great actors are given great characters to work with and live in, it’s a reminder not to take them for granted. This wonderful drama looks at love and impending loss in a gentle and restrained manner is written and directed by Peter Macqueen, an English stage and screen actor who made his directing debut with his last film “Hinterland” in 2014. I haven’t seen that one, but after watching “Supernova”, I immediately want to seek it out.

“Supernova” revolves around dementia, which is an “elephant in the room” medical condition. It’s common not to know how to approach or discuss it, nor what to say or act around the one who’s diagnosed with it. It’s also quite difficult for the one diagnosed, knowing that at some point in the near future it is likely that you will not know those who love you or yourself as you lose your memory and other functions. It’s a cruel disease and thankfully Macqueen’s film doesn’t directly touch on the intricacies or specifics of the diagnosis, but rather how a loving couple who are directly affected by it are trying to live with it.



Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and Sam (Colin Firth) have been partners going on twenty years and have decided to travel north to the English countryside to the Lake District in their old camper van. They’ve been this way before, but it’s been a while, with Tusker’s career as an respected novelist and Sam as a pianist, taking up much of their time. Now, they are aware that time isn’t something they have much of, since Tusker was diagnosed with early-onset dementia over the past couple years, a condition which is starting to really show itself. So, with Tusker still relatively well, they’ve put everything on hold and decided to take a holiday and spend as much time as possible with each other, while they are still aware of each other.

Not much of their history is mentioned, but one can gather that Tusker is American and Sam is quite British (the character maintains the stereotype of withholding emotions and excusing himself when their about to show) and both are quite stubborn and concerned for each other. Inevitably, this trip will force them to confront how they are feeling about the elephant in the room and what they are each prepared to do.

The couple have the kind of sweet and bristly rapport that can be developed over years of enduring love, understanding and patience with each other. They are a joy to watch (primarily because they’re portrayed by Tucci and Firth), from their banter over whether or not to rely on a fold-out map or a navigation device (Tusker can’t stand the device’s voice, says it sounds like Margaret Thatcher) to the night where they share the small bed in the room Sam lived in when he was a boy. That childhood home is now inhabited by Sam’s sister, Lilly (Pippa Haywood) and her husband, Clive (Harry Maqueen), and Tusker and Sam have included a stop there along their road trip. Lilly is supportive and hospitable and their time together is needed for all of them, yet the subject of Tusker’s condition weighs heavily while going mostly unspoken.



A surprise party is thrown for Sam at the house, planned by Tusker months ago surrounded by family and friends who love them. It’s a well-needed time of reconnection and reunion, culminating in Tusker sharing a prepared speech about their lives together, the lives that have touched them, and paying tribute to Sam and his devotion. What stands out is how the speech is delivered. Unable to complete his speech all on his own, Sam offers to take over reading duties and watching Firth get overwhelmed by the words of his best friend is moving and unforgettable.

Throughout “Supernova”, Macqueen provides the two actors with many of these great moments with dialogue that would normally be considered heavily quotable and heartstring tugging, but Tucci and Firth deliver certain lines in such real and honest ways, it’s easy to feel a lump in your throat while watching.

The film’s title derives from Tusker’s fondness and knowledge of the stars above them. This indicated throughout, but there’s this wonderful moment when Tusker is outside on the lawn during the evening of the party, alongside him his young niece. It’s another quiet scene (in a film that has many) in which Tusker has a quiet moment in which he touches on existential hope, while explaining how the stars and humanity’s origins from stardust.

During the third act, Macqueen includes a revelation that has to do with Tusker’s ulterior motive behind the trip, something that Sam stumbles upon. It has to do with Tusker’s decision to take whatever control he has left of his life and the discussion he and Sam have about the choices and commitment each of them have to make is the emotional climax, truly confirming the love, fear, and pain these two are currently wrestling with. Granted these are decisions that could’ve been delved deeper in another movie, but the graceful ending brims with a great amount of respect and appreciation for this couple.

Movies revolving around dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease walk a tricky wire of being too much of one emotion and often not providing a balance of the complexities of the situation. There’s the cheesy ride of “The Leisure Seekers”, which is the pop version of this movie, or it veers toward the uncomfortably challenging, such as “Amour”. “Supernova” rests somewhere in the middle as its own gentle thing, offering two remarkable performances from actors who should never be taken for granted.






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