Low-key reverie belies explosive title

Sam (Colin Firth, left) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) stop for a roadside meal in Supernova. (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

By Richard Ades

It’s a bit misleading that writer-director Harry Macqueen’s new movie is called Supernova.

In astronomy, a supernova occurs when a star comes to an explosive end. True, the flick is about the impending demise of a star of sorts, as Tusker (Stanley Tucci) is a successful novelist (and amateur astronomer) with an incurable illness. But Tusker suffers from premature dementia that promises to make him fade away, memory first, not erupt in a brilliant explosion.   

Essentially a road picture, Supernova is the low-key account of what is likely to be the final trip Tusker takes with his partner of 20 years, pianist Sam (Colin Firth). At Tusker’s request, they pile into their aged RV and set off for their favorite vacation spot, England’s beautiful Lake District. Also on the itinerary is a visit with members of Sam’s family and his first concert after an extended break from performing.  

All of this was planned by Tusker, as Sam would have preferred to stay home so he could better take care of his ailing friend. In fact, caring for Tusker is the only thing Sam wants to do, even if it means putting aside his own needs while Tusker wastes away. But Tusker’s pride and concern for his partner make that the scenario he fears the most.

This sets up arguments that continue throughout the film, ones that doubtless will resound with many aging couples, gay or straight. With Firth and Tucci expertly acting out their characters’ worries against the backdrop of Dick Pope’s cinematography and composer Keaton Henson’s tender score, the result is a melancholy reverie on love and mortality.

Unfortunately, the result is also a journey that is less emotionally involving than it could be. Considering all the talent involved, that’s even more puzzling than the title.

One possibility is that Macqueen doesn’t tell us enough about the characters’ past to appreciate just how much they’ve lost due to Tusker’s illness. “I want to be remembered for who I was and not for who I’m about to become,” Tusker says at one point. But we just don’t know who either he or Sam was except in the most general terms.

A related problem is that Macqueen’s dialogue is too present-oriented, and too plot-oriented—too “on the nose.” It zeroes in on Tusker and Sam’s current challenges so thoroughly that even pros like Tucci and Firth have trouble shading their lines with 20 years’ worth of intimacy.

Supernova does succeed in tackling a sad topic with tact and sensitivity. With a little more insight into the characters, it could have been truly stellar.   

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Supernova (rated R) can be viewed at select theaters (including Columbus’s AMC Easton Town Center 30 and AMC Dublin Village 18) and is available beginning Feb. 16 on digital VOD.

High school romance skips the clichés

Harper (Anjini Taneja Azhar) and Tilly (Quinn Liebling) share a schoolyard hug in Young Hearts.

By Richard Ades

“Meeting cute” is a common trope of romcoms. In the naturalistic teenage romance Young Hearts, the filmmakers prefer to have their protagonists meet awkward.

The flick centers on two Portland, Oregon, high schoolers: freshman Harper (Anjini Taneja Azhar) and sophomore Tilly (Quinn Liebling). Even though they’ve been neighbors since childhood, they’ve never really talked until they run into each other one day on the way to school. Thanks to Sarah Sherman’s script and sensitive direction by Sherman and her brother, Zachary Ray Sherman, their dialogue captures the stop-and-start conversation of two kids eager to connect but unsure how to proceed.   

When they finally break out of their reticence, it’s due to the slimmest of coincidences: On a subsequent walk home, Harper eyes the fall foliage overhead and makes the offhand comment that she loves leaves. This gives Tilly the excuse to invite her to his room to view his own collection of dried leaves. Thus reassured that they have something in common, they soon surrender to their obvious attraction and fall into a relationship.

What might make the movie uncomfortable for some parents is that this relationship quickly becomes not only sexual but all-encompassing. Even when they’re not together, Harper and Tilly are making plans and sharing thoughts via texts. This would be a major commitment for adults, let alone kids who are aged 14 and 15, respectively. Aren’t they jumping the gun?

That question does come up, but only in a roundabout way. The filmmakers seem less interested in spinning a cautionary tale than they are in reflecting contemporary teenage attitudes and behaviors. They also seem eager to call out the threads of sexism that remain in effect even in a progressive community like Portland. Harper, for example, endures inuendo for being in an intimate relationship, while Tilly encounters friction only from Harper’s brother (Alex Jarmon), who was previously his best friend.

A key element of the film’s success is that the leads are portrayed likably and realistically by Azhar and Liebling. Though the characters have major backstories—Harper was given up for adoption by her Indian mother at age 3, and Tilly recently lost his own mom—it’s their present behavior that defines them the most. Harper is an outspoken feminist who talks about sexual politics on an early date, and Tilly is the kind of kid whose shyness probably makes the school’s drama club an appealing outlet.

Neither is a stereotypical teenager, any more than Young Hearts is a stereotypical high school flick. Instead, it’s a wise and warmhearted look at two youths who discover love and all its complications a few years ahead of schedule.  

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Young Hearts is available in select theaters and from VOD outlets beginning Feb. 12.