Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth are quietly devastating as couple Tusker and Sam in Supernova, a road-trip romance through the heart of the British countryside that offers reflections aplenty on life, love, and letting go.
The two actors have great natural chemistry together, acting like an actual couple would, exchanging sly jokes, silences, and passive-aggressive slights in a lived-in fashion. We meet them driving an RV, trying to find their way through winding country roads via the help of a SatNav machine Tusker drolly compares to Margaret Thatcher. Director Harry MacQueen, expanding upon his micro-indie road-movie Hinterland with a far bigger budget and far more accomplished actors, expertly gives us a sense of who they are in just a couple of minutes.
But there is more at stake here than simply leisurely travelling. Tusker has early-onset dementia. While he currently retains most of his senses, Sam wants to use the trip as a way to bring his spirit back, something the sardonic American fears will leave him forever. While Tusker is a novelist currently suffering from writer’s block, Sam is a concert pianist, also worried he’s out-of-shape. These occupations situate them nicely within the middle-class, with British repression meeting American forthrightness to paint a complex portrait of modern love.
The film expertly shows how selfishness and selflessness can mix: Sam fears that he will lose Tusker and be alone and needs him to fight for as long as possible, while Tusker simply doesn’t want Sam to see someone “who looks like him” but simply isn’t the same. It’s obvious here that they need each other just as much as they love each other; making for a moral quandary that spurs in the second half of the film. Their trip, visiting friends and family along the way, is a chance to reminiscence and celebrate their life together, all the while mourning what’s just around the corner.
The setting is suitably autumnal, stressing their later stage in life, with both of them bedecked in cozy cardigans. And like all good British couples, they have a fluffy dog named Ruby, who, despite being criminally cute, is given an illegally small amount of runtime. Together they roam a countryside devoid of people; filled with beautiful deserted lakes and verdant rolling hills, that remind you one how understatedly gorgeous parts of the United Kingdom can be.
Yet, while the setting is modest and the acting dialed-back for maximum effect, the directing often veers the other way. With actors as fine as these — and really you can’t ask for a better pair — you can say so much more by doing so much less. From the celestial metaphors to an overladed-string score, Supernova feels the need to remind us how heartbreaking the story is, instead of simply letting it work for itself. With a little more restraint, it could’ve been something special. As it stands, it’s a mostly-affecting work hampered by a few unnecessary sentimental cues.