Stanley Tucci delivers dramatic work unlike we’ve ever seen in Harry Macqueen’s tender, observant Supernova.
Tucci and Colin Firth play Tusker and Sam, a couple who have been together long enough that a look or a tilted nod says enough for the other to understand. Sam is a concert pianist and Tusker is a novelist working on his latest book. As they travel the English countryside to visit friends and family along the way, they are weighed down by Tusker’s dementia.
Supernova goes to very dark places but its greatest asset is its honesty. Tusker hides his feelings because he doesn’t want to burden Sam, but as we learn, Sam is going to have to deal with it eventually anyway. The lack of schmaltz and oversentimentality was appealing to Tucci.
“The script wasn’t melodramatic or schmaltzy. If it had been, I wouldn’t have done it,” he said. “It was beautifully written and it’s what you see on screen. Delicate, poetic, restrained–the opposite of melodrama. It’s almost the opposite of drama really. I loved it because it was a meditation on love and loss, and the fact that there was this same-sex couple at the center without any focus on their sexuality, it broke boundaries for me on the page. In realization, it did the same and then some.”
It’s telling that Macqueen was able to get the performances out of his leading men. Tucci and Firth have known each other for a long time, but it takes an instinctive director to know how much emotion to show and how to push his actors. The confident direction reminded me of Andrew Haigh’s work on 45 Years.
“Since he wrote the script, it was all there. Clearly he is wise beyond his years. He’s not gay and he’s not my age. He could be my kid. The fact that he wrote this movies about an older, gay couple and just got it right is astounding. Any direction Harry gave me, I just did it. I would do whatever he said.”
Even though dementia is Tusker’s ailment, he has the charm and wit of the actor playing him. The script and performance doesn’t wade in utter horror, and Tucci manages to remind the audience that Tusker is not his disease. He jokes at parties and even pulls a gag on a waitress in a diner.
“It was in the script, but I added my own flourishes. It’s very serious about its subject but the film does not take itself too seriously. That’s what makes it work, I think. When people are suffering, there are so many moments of levity that either they create or the people around them create. They know they are needed. Why are so many death jokes in our culture? It’s part of the human condition. Anything that’s part of the human condition, you have to make jokes about. It makes it easier to get through. The inevitabilities in life are the things that we should joke most about.”
Any time a a straight actor plays gay, social media lights up and there are opinions on both sides. I was tempted to ask Tucci about this, but instead I wondered about traditional roles of masculinity. One of the fresh things about Supernova is that the characters’ sexuality isn’t the focal point of the main conflict. This isn’t another story about AIDS and it’s not about self-expression. Tusker and Sam being gay is almost a side note. It just happens to be two gay men who are enduring an inevitable tragedy.
“We talked about humanity. I’ve always felt that the idea of masculinity was just an idea. It has to be defined again and again and again over the millennia. What we decide is masculine for these one hundred years is not what it is one hundred years later. It keeps changing. Masculinity is just humanity.”
Tusker looks towards the skies frequently throughout Macqueen’s film. He teaches several people about the stars as his own journey edges towards its climax. Is he reaching for something more infinite? Is he trying to distract himself? Is he looking for something bigger to look forward to?
“To me, it’s about reaching outward as his mind is beginning to close. His world is becoming smaller so he’s reaching outward. He is desperate for that.”
Supernova is in theaters and can be streamed on Amazon and Apple.