REVIEWS: ‘Spoiler Alert’, a touching romantic drama; ‘The Son’ is well-meaning but stumbles; Still brilliant, ‘Titanic’ commands a big-screen revisit; ‘Corsage’ a dull, pretentious period drama

Tough times: Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge in the romantic drama ‘Spoiler Alert’.

SPOILER ALERT *** (112 minutes) M
Those sturdy souls who take pride in thinking of themselves as models of emotional reserve would all nonetheless admit to the pleasure of surrendering to a good old-fashioned weepie such as Spoiler Alert, a moving, fact-based romantic drama about New York writer Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) whose life is turned upside down when his life partner Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge) is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Now several light years from the goofball geek he played in The Big Bang Theory Parsons is terrific in a tough role, balancing wit with the gravitas required as his character traverses the demanding arc from full-time writer to full-time carer.

Matching him is British actor Aldridge (from Fleabag) who imbues his ailing character with soul-enriching defiance. It’s a beautifully etched performance.

With veteran Sally Field bringing a sweet portrayal as Kit’s mother, director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick; The Eyes of Tammy Faye) pulls all the right levers without pushing the sentimentality into outright mawkishness.

The film deftly deals with the issue of partially closeted middle-aged homosexuals but it keeps from thumping any political tub, a wise decision given how doing so was one of the things that cost the recent gay rom-com Bros from winning the mainstream audience it was so pining for.

Based on Michael Ausiello’s book Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, the film does honour the chestnut movie convention established by 1970’s Love Story, which set the rule by which a loving relationship is intensified by impending tragedy.

Anyone who manages to remain tearless by the time they get through to the end credits (which features a video snippet of the real Kit) should count themselves as being especially stoic.

TITANIC ***** (196 minutes) M
As if there’s anyone left on Earth who’s not convinced of James Cameron’s dominion over the planet’s multiplexes, his world-conquering 1997 romantic epic Titanic is being unleashed once again, the excuse this time being to commemorate the film’s 25th anniversary.

While we’ve all seen the thing dozens of times on TV, DVD and Blu-ray, here’s an opportunity to rewatch Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet in a brilliantly rendered romantic melodrama, reminted for the big screen in the glories of 4K and 3D.

Directed by Cameron as a grand love story in the Old Hollywood tradition, Titanic swept the world after a slow start and has gone on to be one of the biggest movies of all time, even when adjusted for inflation.

Having already demonstrated the power of computer imaging with 1992’s Terminator 2, Cameron pushed the technology with Titanic, creating many landmark sequences.

Most remarkable, even now, is the famous bow-to-stern shot over the ship, a seminal example of how something physically impossible only a few years earlier could be made to look so photo-realistic.

The film also serves as a tribute to the great David Warner, the journeyman British actor who passed away in July last year, age 80.

As Spicer Lovejoy, Warner has the distinction of delivering the film’s best line.

The ship is rapidly sinking and he finds his boss (Billy Zane) laughing because he’s just realized the coat he put on Rose (Winslet) has the jewel in the pocket.

“What could possibly be funny?” he asks dryly.

A classic line in a classic film.

THE SON ** (123 minutes) MA
There’s an unfortunate point in Florian Zeller’s well-meaning mental illness drama The Son where all the heartfelt effort goes out the window over a rather glaring story fumble.

Hugh Jackman (so good in his largely unheralded performance in 2013’s Prisoners) puts in sturdy work as the father of a depressed teenager (Zen McGrath), a situation complicated by his new wife (Vanessa Kirby), his new child and his angry ex (Laura Dern).

The film chugs a long quite well for much of its running time. It’s not in the league of Zeller’s The Father, also adapted from a play of his and an Oscar-winner for Anthony Hopkins, who has a punchy cameo here as the grandfather. But it’s fine.

Then we get to the business about the gun.

As cautionary tales go about what not to keep lying round the house when a suicidal teen is present, Zeller clearly should have paid more attention to the plausibility of such an important detail.

As it is, the flub simply undercuts the rest of the film. A pity.

The film contains themes that might distress some people. For support call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

CORSAGE *1/2 (114 minutes) M
As much as writer/director Marie Kreutzer’s account of Empress Elisabeth of Austria would like to sell itself as an irreverent, revisionist historical drama with a feminist bent and an “up yours” approach to historical accuracy, it’s a dull, slow-moving portrait that simply fails to engage.

As stiffly played by Vicky Krieps (so good in Phantom Thread and a producer here), the late-19th century monarch doesn’t take kindly to her superficial ceremonial duties when there are more important things that need royal attention, such as war casualties and the mentally ill.

Pressed into unforgiving corsets to honour the dictum that physical beauty equalled thinness, she smokes cigarettes, questions her husband’s judgements and tries keeping a lid on her libido.

As well as being boring, the film flails about in its attempt to be cheekily anachronistic, particularly through its use of music. In one scene we hear the strains of the Kris Kristofferson classic Help Me Make It Through The Night, in another As Tears Go By from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Sure, it’s meant to be cool and brazen but it comes across as pretentious, bringing to mind the poor use of contemporary music in Marie Antoinette (I Want Candy; Hong Kong Garden) and A Knight’s Tale (We Will Rock You; The Boys Are Back in Town; Golden Years).

It’s just musical stuntwork that takes you out of the picture. If you’re going to do this do it properly to strengthen atmosphere. Note the way Quentin Tarantino used David Bowie’s Putting Out Fire in Inglourious Basterds. Don’t jerk viewers out of the film.

Footnote: The release of Corsage has been dogged by several controversies, the most disturbing of which involves actor Florian Teichtmeister (Emperor Franz Joseph I) who admitted to possessing child pornography. Read about it and other scandals here.