Review by Mia Sherry
Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, bespeckled and greying, deeply in love, reckoning with loss. What more could you want? That seems to be the question – and, indeed, the promotional tactic – for Harry Macqueen’s Supernova. And while that’s all fine and well on the surface, it turns out that, when you cut to the bone of the matter, there actually is a lot more you could want. A metric truckload more, to be brutally honest.
I will begin by saying that Supernova certainly has a lot going for it, not least from its two main actors, who both separately and together give beautiful performances. There’s an incredibly fragile and beautiful tenderness between Tusker (Tucci) and Sam (Firth) that is so rarely afforded to gay men on screen, and is incredibly refreshing to watch. Keaton Henson composed the film’s score, full of romantic, lilting strings and melancholic piano. In terms of directing, Macqueen is certainly accomplished; the mise-en-scene as a whole is cohesive and pleasant to watch – cosy, almost. But, unfortunately, for all its technical beauty and grace, it’s not enough to sustain the plot itself, and around two-thirds of the way through, Supernova begins to lag. This is partially due to its somewhat controversial subject matter, but also due to the lukewarm way in which it deals with it. What’s supposed to feel like a bombshell revelation feels more like a plot twist half-heartedly shoved into the film to fill some time – and the execution is poor, to put it lightly. What begins as one last hurrah as Tusker and Sam visit friends before the former’s early-onset dementia progresses quickly turns into a messy puzzle of love, morality, and questions of ableism.
Perhaps what most lets this film down is the final twenty minutes. The relationship that had been built up by Tucci and Firth feels discarded for the sake of meaningless plot progression and the ending offers little to no closure – a regrettable decision, considering the wealth of potential offered by Tucci and Firth. It’s incredibly difficult to judge a film like Supernova for a myriad of reasons, but mostly for the subject with which it deals. Remembering the controversy of Me Before You (Thea Sharrock, 2016), it’s impossible to see exactly what Supernova is trying to do and justify it. Though euthanisa is a complex and deeply nuanced subject, Supernova takes a staggeringly blunt approach that feels, at best, horrendously misjudged and, at worst, deeply ableist. The film, as a whole, feels mismatched and unsure of what exactly it wants to be. For example, Tusker, despite being a romance fiction writer, has a remarkable, almost academic, knowledge of the solar system. We know this because the film makes several references to it and is filled with gratuitous star-gazing scenes. This would be fine, if it served literally any point to the plot, but it doesn’t even provide a hammy metaphor.
To be honest, the main question I had while watching Supernova was – why bother? What’s new? Positive gay representation? Sure, but that doesn’t do much to combat the problematic ideas that these films promote.