Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are convincing as a middle-aged gay couple dealing with dementia
SUPERNOVA (Harry Macqueen). 93 minutes. Now streaming on VOD; available to rent at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday (February 19). Rating: NNN
Hinterland director Harry Macqueen’s second feature is a quiet and tasteful picture about a middle-aged gay couple taking a road trip through rural England in their sturdy old RV.
British-born Sam (Colin Firth) is a pianist on his way to play a concert in the country; along the way he visits his sister and her family. Tusker (Stanley Tucci) is a witty, American-born novelist with a passion for astronomy. He’s also living with dementia, and his condition is worsening, making this trip a symbolic one in the couple’s lengthy relationship.
There’s something studiously inoffensive about the film, from its picture postcard landscapes – the film was shot in England’s famous Lake District – and cozy interiors to the warm woollen sweaters worn by both men.
Both actors have played gay characters before – Firth as the grieving college professor in A Single Man, Tucci as the benevolent art director who helps out Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. Here they’re believably comfortable and affectionate with each other, tuned into each other’s thoughts and moods.
I wish there were more scenes like an early one in which Tusker calls out a restaurant server for what he senses as polite homophobia. And it’s too bad we don’t get more glimpses of what the two were like when they were younger.
But Macqueen allows both characters to have their dignity as they deal with a life-changing situation. An early scene featuring a lost and disoriented Tusker is shot from afar so we’re detached observers figuring things out; there’s not a trace of sentimentality about it. And there’s much-needed comedy in a scene in which the couple attempt to sleep in Sam’s childhood bed.
Firth is fine – he’s made a career out of doing this stiff-upper-lip acting – but it’s Tucci who gets the better part, particularly in a scene, hinted at in the trailer, set at a dinner celebration in which he can’t read a speech he’s written. Watching his range of emotions as Firth reads the speech is the heart of the film.
Supernova is a moving story about a couple dealing in different ways with loss. And even the occasional – and totally unnecessary – bit of astronomical symbolism suggested by its title can’t take away from that.