By Lynn Venhaus
A hard look at mental health when facing a life-altering course, “Supernova” is a well-meaning, if underdone, love story that features virtuoso performances from Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth.
Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) have been a couple for 20 years. They take a road trip through England in their old camper van, visiting friends, family and special places from their past because Tusker has early-onset dementia. He knows that this might be the last time he can absorb the feelings about all things he loves.
Meanwhile, Sam is trying to cope with the decline of his longtime partner and facing an uncertain future.
Tucci, one of the best character actors working today, has only been nominated once for an Oscar (“The Lovely Bones”) but hopefully that will change, because he vaults to frontrunner status with this heartbreaking turn as a man confronting soul-crushing loss – of his identity and health.
As supportive partner Sam, Firth, Oscar winner for “The King’s Speech,” tries to be the rock, but can’t hide his pain or insecurities. The pair will be tested, and it’s gut-wrenching.
Both actors, who are longtime friends, convey an intimacy and history as they believably portray longtime companions.
However, the rather mundane movie isn’t as satisfying as their work.
Writer-director Harry Macqueen has obviously done his research on dementia, which is relatable to any family member dealing with a loved one’s decline. However, he holds back on the hand wringing and panic, which would be real emotional tsunamis, so it’s rather all tastefully represented. What’s felt seems to be bubbling up under the surface, ready to break through but rarely emerging.
A ribbon of melancholy is present throughout, as the film does meander while the men face the unpleasant reality and unknown of the future.
Their journey through the United Kingdom’s Lake District is a lovely drive. Sam’s family homestead is a stop, while Tusker is from America.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the film is its stubborn refusal to parcel out a backstory. Sam is a classical pianist and Tusker apparently has written books, but we don’t know too much about them as individuals or as a couple – except they’ve been together for two decades.
The subject matter is depressing, but the lack of oomph in storytelling doesn’t help in engagement.
A little too plain, ‘Supernova” needed to give us more than a showcase for two outstanding actors.
“Supernova” is a drama written and directed by Harry Macqueen, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. Rated R for language, the film’s runtime is 1 hour, 33 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B. Available in theatres Jan. 29 and Video on Demand on Feb. 16.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat daily newspaper. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association.