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Supernova works with familiar stars

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

My chronic movie watching brought on a dose of Alzheimer related projects, including the January 29 theatrical release of Supernova. Since October, the documentary Dick Johnson is Dead shows one approach to dealing with Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins offers an Oscar quality turn as The Father. Those two recent projects show daughters coping with their parent’s condition. In contrast, Supernova relates more to movies like Amour and The Leisure Seeker as a long-term couple face an ending with disability and death, neither far off after a diagnosis of dementia.

As one difference, Supernova features a gay couple played by Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. But this distinction works more like an addendum than vital point; the real issue comes from two people who love each other dearly and flail while they figure an approach for dealing with a fickle blow from life. As in the film Still Alice, the diagnosis comes at a youngish age with early onset Alzheimer’s. Rather than show someone in the throes of the disease, Tucci plays a man who wants to live a full life rather than the one that lies ahead. As Tucci’s partner, Firth prefers to hang on rather than let go. The two set out on a road trip, bantering and causing no harm as they playfully joke about one another’s weaknesses.

Instead of grandstanding moments featuring glazed-eyed illness, the situation mixes more subtle emotions with a few louder instances of fear and loss. Two fine actors who never fail to deliver on-target performances, Tucci and Firth stand out with poignant sincerity, relating to one another with the ease and depth of friends who have known each other for decades. Writer-director Harry Macqueen gives his stars the freedom to include private jokes they share from their own lives, letting them improvise scenes for added touches of authenticity.

Following a pattern of other Alzheimer related films, the acting forum proves the movie’s strongest lure. Such movies create a serious problem for viewers who want a cheery ending: the disease makes that option difficult to achieve. And yet, Supernova’s wistful and loving tone reflects the meaning of its title—new stars emerging in a universe that continues operating despite its losses.

Supernova’s January 29th theatrical release helps promote its stars for Oscar consideration. Its February 16th accessibility on streaming services broadens viewing opportunities.

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