Bring tissues. For if you need a good ugly-cry in a still-young year that has already been filled with so much grief, “Supernova” is your movie. Which isn’t to say that this incredibly heartfelt and sad film isn’t good—far from it.
This new film from writer-director Harry Macqueen stars Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as Sam and Tusker, longtime romantic partners in late middle age on a road trip through the English countryside. At first we see them acting as any couple that has been together for as long as they have would. As Sam pilots their RV, Tusker bickers about the maps and road choices. Firth and Tucci are comedically on during these early scenes, and you can’t help but smile at their chemistry.
But soon we learn this isn’t just any road trip. For Tusker, an astrophysicist, is in the early stages of dementia, and this journey is one last hurrah to make new memories before, as he so sadly forecasts, he can no longer recognize the face of the man he loves.
The couple visits old friends and relatives across England, smiling and laughing at shared old memories. Through it all Sam has instructed Tusker to keep a diary of his condition, but soon we discover that this project hasn’t proceeded as Sam has hoped. He also discovers an audio diary that Tusker has been keeping, and one particularly disturbing entry in that record will cause quite the row for the two men late in the film.
That is really all there is to the plot; the majority of the film rests on the able shoulders of the two leads and their splendid performances. Tucci is suitably stoic, as a man of science would be, in the face of his diagnosis, and unsentimental about pushing Sam to accept that Tusker will soon be a shell of the former man he once knew. Sam will not hear of it, and Firth brings a sad, thoroughly English desperateness to Sam’s refusal to accept that he will soon be alone—even if Tusker’s body still has life within it.
Macqueen’s script is spare and wastes no time. The film is barely over ninety minutes with closing credits, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome or needle us with melodrama. You know going in that this story can only end in heartbreak, while engendering tears in any viewer watching as to contemplating being either the one who loses his memories or being the one left behind to care for him.
This year is young, but “Supernova” is the film to that has set the bar. Tucci and Firth are both magnificent and understated, and Macqueen handles the proceedings with a masterful conductor’s touch. The film presents decline and death not just as inevitable but, in a strange way, oddly beautiful.
As I said, bring tissues.
Opens in select theaters today and VOD on February 16th