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Review: Supernova

Luke Brown reviews the new Firth-Tucci slow-burn that results in more of a whimper than a bang

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Image Credit: BBC Films


Director: Harry Macqueen

Starring: Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth

Running Time: 1hr 35min

Rating: 15

Content warning: terminal illness

In one of Family Guy’s many cutaway sketches, a director produces a mundanely realistic film depicting its actors sighing, sneezing and going to the toilet off-camera. How I chuckled. It’s funny because it’s not true, I reckoned. Supernova reminded me of the surprising perceptiveness of classic cartoon shows.

After a long career of playing titillating, teasingly camp metrosexuals (think Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada and Caesar Flickerman in The Hunger Games), Stanley Tucci has finally decided to go the full way in this slightly bizarre portrayal of a gay man, Tusker, descending into dementia on a road trip with his husband Sam (Colin Firth). Like chalk and cheese or the Queen and Jay-Z, these two are an unlikely duo. And yet it works.

But it’s the only thing that works in this film.

Most of Supernova is shots of the Lake District and the two protagonists gazing moodily into the distance. But the moment that really broke the camel’s back- sledge-hammered it, in fact, was watching Tusker attempt to put on his jumper for what felt like ten minutes. It was then that I decided that, after going teetotal following a bout of post-exam binge-drinking, I would have to crack open a crate to get through this tedious sludge.

Six cans in, and I’m wishing that I had something stronger in the house. I start to notice that the same glassware is used in different locations. Good Lord, this film is dull.

The fundamental problem with Supernova is that nothing really happens. It is just too realistic. We follow Sam and Tusker’s campervan journey to see Sam’s family in excruciating detail. Tusker grumbles about the voice on the satnav; at another point, Sam browses the shelves at a service station for no obvious reason. Who wants to see that sort of mundanity in a film?

All of this is set against the grim backdrop of Tusker’s worsening dementia. You would think that this would give the film some substance, some purpose. Alas, it actually makes the whole thing even more life-sucking. And the film’s title, it turns out, only refers to a few twee scenes in which the characters gaze up at the stars. I was rooting for a genuine supernova by the halfway point.

Granted, the acting is good - it’s gritty and believable. Corny one-liners aside (‘I want to be remembered for who I was, and not for who I am about to become’), you could really imagine the events of this film happening. Firth does particularly well in the more bittersweet scenes. In one, he flips through the pages of Tusker’s notebook, the handwriting gradually but drastically becoming smaller, thinner and ultimately gibberish. A brilliant way to illustrate Tusker’s deterioration without saying the D-word.

Thoroughly steaming now, I start to think that the film is getting better. A bit like Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood, this film almost redeems itself at the end, although in a wildly different way. I was genuinely moved by Sam’s struggle to accept that the love of his life is dying. But just when I think it’s picking up, Sam declares: ‘I now think this is why I was put here’ (cue vomit, and not from the alcohol).

There are a scattering of light-hearted, almost funny, moments. But, like the stars in the deep black sky, they are few and far between. I suppose that’s the point of this film. Supernova isn’t a feel-good romp, but a slow-burn tragedy.

This is the film equivalent of an awkward silence: uncomfortable and feels like it goes on for longer than it actually does. It’s one of those films which critics are supposed

to say is so very profound and moving. But Nouse caters for you, the student. So, unless polo neck-clad, wine-sipping sentimentality is your thing, you will be deeply, properly bored by this film.

It turns out that the real ‘supernova’ is the implosion of this film’s potential, followed by the explosion of the viewer’s rage at being so badly betrayed.

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