This year has not only one, but two poignant films about dementia between “The Father”(2021) and Harry Macqueen’s “Supernova“(2021). While the former is more focused on the experience of having dementia, Macqueen’s film examines the way that it puts strain on even the most solid of relationships as a couple deals with one partner’s diagnosis in different ways. It’s a fairly quiet and understated piece, with many scenes even taking place inside the small space of an RV, but the two fantastic lead performances from two of our best working actors make it something special.
Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are traveling across England to the Lake District with their adorable dog in an RV. Sam, a successful pianist, has a concert that he is reluctant to perform in, but his novelist partner has encouraged him to do. The couple have been together for twenty years and from their bickering about packing and driving to the way they interact with friends and family, it’s clear that theirs is a strong relationship.
However, Tusker has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and is starting to become more affected by it daily, from wandering off to having issues with delivering a speech for Sam’s birthday. The couple reminisce over the experiences they’ve shared together and record tapes of them talking to listen to later. But underneath Tusker’s annoyance at Sam fussing over him is a deeper disagreement about how to deal with Tusker’s illness.
The film explores both what it means to have a debilitating illness like dementia and how to reckon with knowing what will happen to you in the future and the struggle of caring for someone who has it. Macqueen seems equally sympathetic to both experiences and is wonderfully sensitive.
Firth gives arguably a career-best performance as Sam. Of course, Firth as a grumpy older man is all I ever want to see in movies, but his more gruff and reserved persona plays well off of Tucci’s more outspoken and playful Tusker. Both performances are understated, seeming to go for more realistic approaches to the characters and never milking the situation for dramatic effect.
Their chemistry together is wonderful and the way the film portrays the affection between them is beautiful. Even the way that Sam watches Tusker across a room is proof of the acting ability on display.
The film is full of understated loveliness. The costumes by Matthew Price are spot on for these characters with quarter zips and plaid. Dick Pope’s cinematography features fantastic shots of the English countryside. The score by Keaton Henson uses strings beautifully and does a great job at setting the tone of the film.
The ending is definitely heavy and does feel a bit abrupt. It almost feels like perhaps there’s a scene missing and yet, that feels appropriate for a film about a couple who had the later chapters of their life together stolen from them. The weightiness of the movie feels appropriate with a topic like this one and yet, there are lighter moments in the film as well.
Perhaps some might find it too simple, with its run-time of only 93 minutes, or not exciting enough. But for those who have been affected by dementia or those who enjoy dramas based around relationships, it’s a strong film.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who ended the movie in tears — and wishing that Sam and Tusker could adopt me.