I know what some of you may be thinking. Is this a looking back review of the 2000 James Spader sci-fi space film “Supernova”? Thankfully to most, I’m not here to talk about the Walter Hill and James Spader classic (I’m kidding about it being a classic. Or am I?). This one is a human drama starring career best performances from both Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci (why hasn’t this man won an Oscar?!) and Oscar winner Colin Firth.
In a quick synopsis the two veteran actors play a gay couple (one a musician and the other a novelist), who embark on a road trip as dementia starts to take hold of one of them. Sure a movie about dementia hardly calls out as “must see entertainment”, especially with so many who have family members that suffer from the disease. But in the past three months alone we have been overwhelmed with three films in total, that focus on the mind altering disease. The first one out of the gate was Anthony Hopkins “The Father” and followed by Viggo Mortensen’s “Falling” who made his directorial debut and also wrote, produced, starred and even composed the musical score. Lastly we have the aforementioned “Supernova”.
“The Father” took a unique approach to depicting the brain disease in a psychological way, told through the eyes of a father and daughter. While “Falling”, took a more provocative approach to the material, told through a father and son. “Supernova” looks at dementia through the love story of two men and the hardships they face in saying goodbye to one another.
I’m recommending “Supernova” based on it’s two lead performances as both Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth both give intimate and tender performances. The chemistry between the two is ferocious, loving and sweet that it’s easy to root for them and it takes all of about a few seconds to believe that these two have been together for so long.
Actor turned writer and director Harry MacQueen pilots the love story and uses the less is more approach. He doesn’t try to do anything too ambitious narratively, but tells a straight-forward story of love and loss with a searing emotional authenticity. While out of the three films, “Supernova” hits the hardest emotionally but MacQueen doesn’t resort to making a slushy melodrama. MacQueen gives it a stripped back direction, where like Anthony Hopkins “The Father”, it feels like a stage play that has scenes comprised of Firth and Tucci just dialoguing inside a single room.
While “Supernova” has little originality in regards to the subject matter, it’s the two leads that make it one of the must see films of the year. Here, Stanley Tucci hasn’t been this great in years (I blame the material not him) and again I say: “Why hasn’t this man won an Oscar yet?”. Tucci is marvelous here and not receiving a Golden Globe nomination is the biggest snub of the year (alongside a snubbed Delroy Lindo in “Da 5 Bloods).
Colin Firth who has never really impressed me as an actor (yes not even his Oscar win for “The King’s Speech” won me over), although he was excellent in the first “Kingsman” film. Firth sports a rugged beard and a strained look in his eyes as Sam, who is clearly working hard to hold everything together as he wishes to make the most of the time he has left with his beloved spouse.
Together both Tucci and Firth are both at the peak of their game in “Supernova”. They deliver such sweet and poignant performances you feel as though you already know them as a couple. Tucci’s Tusker has early onset dementia and is already beginning to experience symptoms, which causes Tusker and Sam to take one last major trip together, so they can make the most of what time they have together.
Sam and Tusker reminisce about their early years and share nights under the stars and eventually get into raging arguments about Tusker’s fate. As a couple we get to know them pretty quickly and we witness the difficulty that lies within their relationship. Sam (Firth) is outraged that Tusker (Tucci) has considered ending his life because he doesn’t want Sam around to see him become a shell of himself. They both know that Tuscker’s ultimate decision isn’t Sam’s to make and Tusker doesn’t want Sam’s last memories to be of Tusker not recognizing who Sam is. As Tusker says: “You’re not supposed to mourn somebody when they are still alive”.
One of the brilliant aspects of MacQueen’s script is in taking Tusker’s decision and asking the audience: Which one of them is right? Or is neither of them wrong? Because really neither of them can do anything to ward off the inevitable. MacQueen uses the cosmic expanse of the stars and discussions of the galaxy in providing a prominent analogy for life, death, memories and what we leave behind. MacQueen presents this in a thoughtful manner without feeling too schmaltzy or heavy handed.
“Supernova” is a beautiful piece of cinema that benefits from its soft and discreet approach. Especially after the full force assault of Viggo Mortensen’s “Falling” and Anthony Hopkins psychological play on the mind in “The Father”. MacQueen’s “Supernova”, wouldn’t be my first choice in the recent string of films about the brain disease. Although it can be said that it is one of those defining film festival darlings with Oscar worthy performances from Colin Firth and a never-better Stanley Tucci, in two of the most outstanding performances of the year.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3.5 out of 5)