A road movie with a tragic edge, Supernova is a beautiful but unpretentious representation of unconditional love.
A campervan journey through the Lake District is the kind of classic UK “staycation” which might ring particularly familiar after this past summer. It is also the basis for writer-director Harry Macqueen’s latest film, Supernova: ambling country roads and deep green hillsides adorn the backdrop whilst a tragic love story unfolds, following two seasoned lovers, Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and Sam (Colin Firth), as they navigate the English countryside. They are en-route to a concert, but there is something plaguing them: Tusker has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. The couple embark on this road trip with a real sense of finality: it feels like a homecoming journey of sorts, as they visit places filled with fond memories of better days.
Tucci and Firth are household names at this point in their careers, and Supernova has no doubt benefited from the traction they’ve brought along with them. They’re no strangers to playing gay roles either (Firth in A Single Man and Mamma Mia; Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada), but this film sees the actors breaking from some of the cliches surrounding queer stories; it is a heartfelt love story in which their sexual orientation plays no major role. Director Harry Macqueen has said that, in writing this love story, he sought to “normalise the normal” of LGBTQ+ relationships. Queerness isn’t a plot-point, it’s never even really discussed; their relationship is presented matter-of-factly, just as any heterosexual relationship would be in its place. It would be doing the film a disservice to stack it on the pile with the rest of the archetypical tragic gay stories; its raw and plain portrayal of Tusker and Sam’s relationship gives it a refreshing individuality.
It’s hard not to fall for Tucci’s charm as Tusker: his razor-sharp wit, though increasingly blunted from his illness, provides many laughs throughout the film. Perhaps this is to be expected from such a renowned comic actor as Tucci, but his good humour only serves to make the sombre moments hit even harder. The tone of the film seesaws back and forth, with as many moments filled with joy as with anguish. Firth’s nervous, tentative Sam is the viewer’s guiding voice through the film, as he pilots the motorhome through their journey. His gentleness fosters a real emotional connection with the viewer, making the couple’s turmoil all the more heart-wrenching. The actors, who are known to be close personal friends in real life, let their real love and connection shine through in these performances. The film’s persistent poignancy culminates with an emotional sucker-punch when Sam delivers a toast to a room full of friends, though the film is more broadly riddled with moments that could melt even the stoniest of hearts.
For the film’s score, Macqueen enlisted the help of England’s resident musical tear-jerker Keaton Henson to great effect: the string-based music throughout adds an indescribable tenderness.
There is a recurring motif of stargazing throughout the film (hence its title), which ironically does a lot to bring the story down to earth; far from falling into the traditional traps of self-aggrandising tragic romantic films, Supernova feels distinctly honest and authentic. Tusker’s allusions to the vastness of the universe verge on the side of nihilism, but ultimately what he gives you is a humbling sense of hope. There is a magic realist sensibility to the film’s ability to capture the remarkable wonders of the universe in an unremarkable, modest way, and in his writing, Macqueen is able to masterfully deal with existential sorrow while also finding comfort in the limitlessness of space. In Supernova, Harry Macqueen has made a truly unique road movie with genuine love and emotion at its core. Tusker and Sam’s relationship is written with real authenticity, and the joy felt in the film’s high points cause the low points to tug even harder at your heartstrings.
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