The power of a movie doesn’t necessarily have to be in its offering a new idea. That can be a part of it, certainly, but execution is also crucial. The best ideas amount to nothing if they’re carried out badly and the oldest ones are more powerful than you can ever imagine if done the right way. With “Supernova,” writer and director Harry Macqueen may not offer us the newest of tales, but he imbues the story with new life. In no small part that is because it features Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, two towering actors who are more than good here.
“Supernova” follows the tale of Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci). The former is a pianist and composer, the latter a novelist. When we meet the men, who have been in a relationship for decades, they are getting ready to set out on one last trip in an RV. Sam is the driver, Tusker is the navigator (he has a road atlas and makes his disdain for satnav known).
Well, we don’t know that in the first moments with them. Initially when we see the men, it’s just their hands, together. It is a shot which speaks of love and intimacy. When we see both men more fully, they are fast asleep in bed. Sam is above the covers, Tucker underneath, and both are vulnerable. Nothing happens in the moment, they’re just asleep, but that’s enough – we know them.
Instantly, there is something bittersweet there. The trip may bring joy along the way, but we know that there will be sadness too. It is baked into the setup. The information is all there from the early moments, it just the all-important unfolding that awaits us.
This aging, but not elderly, couple is dealing with a problem, Tusker’s early onset dementia, and we’re there to learn all about it. We are there to see reunions and for final goodbyes. We know that. We don’t know all the specifics, but we know enough. We are there for the ride, nothing more.
The power of the film lies in Macqueen’s direction and allowing Firth and Tucci the space and time the men need. There is nothing hurried about it, nothing grandiose, nothing over the top. We watch Sam and Tusker as they replay conversations that have clearly been going on for years. We laugh as Tusker mortifies Sam in a restaurant and we cry as Sam uncovers details of Tusker’s plans.
In one of the most poignant scenes, at a party provided for Sam by Tusker and Sam’s sister, Lilly (Pippa Haywood), it falls to Sam to read Tusker’s toast to him, delivering this personal message (even if it was meant to be given publicly) to the assembled group. It is Sam giving Tusker’s opinion of Sam and Tusker’s relationship with Sam, in a pure, unvarnished, way. It is Sam offering Tusker’s version of their life and getting to see it from that perspective. Watching this take place, we know what Sam may quibble with, what he may have kept hidden, and where he’s completely in agreement. There are moments of joy there and moments of sadness as memories play across Sam’s face (Tusker’s too) and there is the men’s worry about the future. It is the movie in miniature – comedy and tragedy combined.
Macqueen lets it play. He gives us Sam’s face and Tusker’s face. He give us the smiles and laughter from the assembled group. Macqueen gives us the moment, taking this small thing and making it big. It is immensely pure and powerful.
With “Supernova” we are dropped into the personal, private, lives of these two men. We are granted access to their world for an hour and a half and that fly on the wall perspective is made to feel special. We feel as though we are on the inside and only wish that we could reach out and hold Sam and Tusker as they try to deal with their lives as they are and as they’re about to be.
That is what makes this movie special – the closeness with which we are allowed to see the men. We know them from the first minute we meet them and straight through until the end and it is powerful. Firth and Tucci are wonderful and Macqueen makes us feel lucky to get to spend time with these characters the three have created. It is something to see.
photo credit: Bleecker Street