Movie Review: Supernova

Alzheimer’s Disease is a growth industry, it’s sad to say. According to the U.S.-based Alzheimer’s Association, more than six million Americans are currently living with the disease. That number is expected to more than double by 2050. It’s not surprising, then, that Hollywood is sitting up and taking notice of the trend. A few years ago, we had the powerful and heartbreaking film, STILL ALICE, about an active, middle age woman who develops early-onset dementia. Just a few weeks ago, THE FATHER, arrived in our cinemas. That film, too, deals with the disease but from the perspective of an elderly man who is facing going into a care home. (If you haven’t seen that film yet, I highly recommend it.) Now we have SUPERNOVA, which adds another wrinkle to an already complicated situation. Here, the protagonist, Tusker Mulliner, is further along the spectrum than Alice Howland but not as far along as Anthony. The big difference, though, is that Tusker is gay.

Novelist Tusker (Stanley Tucci, THE HUNGER GAMES franchise; SPOTLIGHT; THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) and concert pianist Sam (Colin Firth, THE SECRET GARDEN; 1917; MARY POPPINS RETURNS; the MAMMA MIA! films; the BRIDGET JONES films; DEVIL’S KNOT) have been in a relationship for 20 years. Tusker, we learn, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia two years earlier and the pair has decided to hire a camper van and travel across England to reunite with family and friends while Tusker is still able to do so. Their road trip, however, is more than just a simple farewell tour as each man must face his fears.

SUPERNOVA paints a tender portrait of a couple that knows very well that their lives and their relationship are about to change forever, and there’s little they can do about it. Unlike Alice Howland, Tasker has already been dealing with memory loss and disorientation for the past two years and, in that time, he’s already given thought to how he wants to live out his remaining time with his partner. He just hasn’t articulated those plans to Sam. At the same time, Sam has given thought to looking after Tasker but he has chosen to keep his fears and apprehensions to himself so as not to add to Tasker’s burdens. The story could easily have entered into maudlin territory but writer-director Harry Macqueen (HINTERLAND) shows masterful restraint by putting emotional and physical distance between the audience and his characters. In one scene after Tusker wanders off and Sam frantically searches for him, Macqueen forces the audience to watch their reunion through the filter of the van’s windshield as the characters quietly process what the future might very well hold for each of them. That imposed distance is both frustrating yet completely relatable. We might want to be with Tusker and Sam to share in their mixture of worry and relief but all we can do is watch helplessly from the sidelines.

The two actors, for their part, are up for the challenge that Macqueen gives them and they both deliver performances that are powerful in their restraint. Tucci and Firth are BFFs in real life often taking vacations together with their two families and the apparent ease of their good-natured banter fits perfectly for two characters who have been a couple for so many years. The actors were recently on A Late Show with Stephen Colbert and they revealed that they had asked to switch roles when the film was pre-production. It seems to have been a smart move, although both actors are so versatile either way would have been believable.

Critics are liking SUPERNOVA more than audiences. It may be that after 15 months of Life in the Time of Covid and this year’s class of Best Picture Oscar nominees that didn’t include any singing, fast cars or archcriminals, audiences are looking for a little less reality and a little more escapism, as Bill Maher recently ranted. I can appreciate that but if you can handle watching one more sombre film, I would recommend this one.

SUPERNOVA opens in Hong Kong’s cinemas on April 29th.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, April 29th, 8:30 am HK time!

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