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(Harry Macqueen’s Supernova is available now on VOD via Bleecker Street. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

Sam and Tusker are longtime romantic partners, the one a concert pianist, the other a writer. They share the usual easy rapport of couples who have spent many years together, comfortable in both silence and chatty back and forth. When we meet them, they are on the road, taking a vacation through northern England’s Lake District in an old RV, their dog in the back. Though approximately sixtyish (the actors playing them were both born in 1960), they are spry and of sound mind, this trip a welcome break from the pressures of ordinary life. Until, that is, at what should be a regular rest stop, we learn that one of them, Tusker, is not quite as sound as we thought. He is, in fact, in the first stages of early-onset dementia, and this scenic voyage is a farewell journey while he can still appreciate the world as he has heretofore known it.

Colin Firth (The Happy Prince) and Stanley Tucci (Submission) play Sam and Tusker, respectively, and one of the great things about the movie is how the fact that they are gay has nothing to do with any part of the drama. There is nothing wrong with films about the challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ community because of their identity, but as with all human beings, that identity is not the sum total of who they are. It shouldn’t need articulating, but gay folks get old just like everyone, with the same attendant issues, and even if this particular story is filled with much sadness, it’s nice to watch a story where homosexuality is part of the fabric and not the crisis.

As we follow along, the two men struggling to hold onto what they have long cherished, stopping with close friends along the way, director Harry Macqueen (Hinterland) occasionally pulls back from the raw intimacy of their interactions to showcase the unbelievably majestic, if cold, scenery of the glacially sculpted landscapes through which they drive. These alternating macro and micro views of the world help remind us of the beauty of existence, and why life is so sad when it slips us by. Firth’s Sam isn’t sure he can survive without Tusker; Tusker isn’t sure he can survive without himself, either. But the world will go on, regardless, ever lovely, ever harsh.

Supernova opens and closes with views of the night sky; Tusker is also an astronomy buff. Given his relative youth, and his show of strength as he does his best to keep it all together, an exploding star makes for an apt metaphor, especially since it becomes clear that Tusker wants to go out on his own terms. Better to burn brightly than to fade away. That’s his philosophy, anyway. Thanks to Tucci and Firth’s heartfelt performances, we can agree or disagree with the choices made, but we can’t look away. Theirs is a powerful light.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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