Smurfs, fun … and terminal cancer in this disarming film

M, 112 minutes
In cinemas February 9

The title of Michael Ausiello’s bestselling memoir, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, mixes irony and bravado in equal measure.

Ausiello says his book isn’t a “misery memoir”. Even though the plot hinges on a diagnosis of terminal cancer, fun and romance have equally important parts to play.

Ben Aldridge as Kit Cowan, Jim Parsons as Michael Ausiello, Sally Field as Marilyn and Bill Irwin as Bob Credit:Linda Källérus

Michael Showalter’s film of the book drops the spoiler from the title but we learn the worst in the opening scene. Then we’re into a flashback recounting what is essentially a love story. It begins in 2001 when Ausiello (Jim Parsons) and Kit Cowan (British actor Ben Aldridge) meet at a Manhattan club.

They’re an unlikely pair. Kit is a buff, charming photographer who has always preferred casual sex to steady relationships, and Michael (Jim Parsons) is a nerdy vegetarian who drinks Diet Coke and wears button-down shirts buttoned up. He’s an entertainment journalist with a special interest in sitcoms and soaps. And that’s not all. When Kit is finally permitted to visit his apartment, he finds that it’s been colonised by the Smurf collection Ausiello has been acquiring since childhood.

Ausiello wrote the book after Kit’s death. It grew from a series of Facebook posts read by the couple’s family and friends, one of whom was an editor at Simon & Schuster. And Showalter has succeeded in catching its spirit – its intimacy, its self-deprecating sense of humour and Ausiello’s habit of seeing life through the prism of the television shows he loved as a kid. Both his parents died when he was young and the shows take him back to the times when he was at his happiest. So, too, does the Smurf collection.

Kit’s parents are very much alive. His mother, Marilyn (Sally Field) competes in triathlons – despite her stately pace and dodgy knees – and his father, Bob (Bill Irwin) is kept busy carrying out his wife’s orders. Kit’s relationship with Michael finally gives him the courage to tell them that he’s gay and they do better than approve. They embrace Michael as a surrogate son.

The film is episodic in shape. The couple go through many ups and downs during the 13 years they spend together and the script canvasses them all. Sometimes the tone is a little too cute but Showalter (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and his writers have a persuasive ability to defuse the looming threat of sentimentality with comedy.

Aldridge is terrific as the easy-going Kit, who’s been blessed with such physical confidence that the disease comes as both shock and betrayal, and Field knows exactly when to rein in the indomitable Marilyn. It’s a disarming film.

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