By Elias Savada.
Filled with keen observant and honest life revelations that warms the heart before the moments of despair, Spoiler Alert offers up a warming cup of hot cocoa in a tragicomic setting.”
As terminal illness-driven comedy-dramas go, Spoiler Alert is a light, semi-sweet step up from any of the movie look-alikes you often find on the Hallmark, Lifetime, and even some of the higher-priced streaming services. It also literally channels some of the same cancer-family-relationship-tragedy tropes found in the popular, award-winning 1983 film Terms of Endearment, but instead of looking at a fictionalized heterosexual tale, the new Focus Features’ release looks at the true story of the 14-year relationship between Michael Ausiello (from whose 2017 bestselling memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies the film is adapted, by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage) and Kit Cowan.
Ausiello’s life as a workaholic television journalist, coupled with a child-like devotion to all things Smurf, make for terrific character development, and it’s a role assuredly filed by Jim Parsons (also one of the film’s producers), a tv icon who became wildly popular on the long-running, Emmy-winning The Big Bang Theory. More than a few of that series’ fans might be looking for a variant of his socially awkward physicist Sheldon Cooper, and there is some familiarity between the two gawky personalities. Parsons has been steadily broadening out his repertoire (including The Boys in the Band, Netflix’s 2020 adaptation of Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking play, and the Ryan Murphy’s mini-series Hollywood, in which he received Golden Globes and Emmy nominations). Spoiler Alert offers a convincing, semi-geeky, blossoming wallflower portrayal here, with some forceful moments that were never in his Big Bang’s playbook.
Heck, for anyone who has sought fleeting or long-term relationships — straight or gay — there are parallels to be drawn to the challenges expressed in the movie’s dating scenes. Most people should relate to Michael’s trepidation about bar hopping, although I do suspect that socializing in the real world isn’t as comic and endearing as the film’s dialogue provides.
The interaction between Parsons and British actor Ben Aldridge (sporting a spot-on American accent) as Michael and Kit, a photographer, offers up nice comfort food for the audience. They wouldn’t seem to mesh based on their dissimilar lifestyles and upbringings, but somehow their awkwardness works to their true-life benefit. The narrative keeps their relationship mostly upbeat, with a couple of potholes they must hit before the film’s final stretch.
Showalter, a multi-hyphenate comedian, actor, producer, director, and writer, shows the same directorial control he displayed with the acclaimed The Big Sick a few years ago. He keeps his camera close to his cast and gently balances the high and low energy moments with aplumb. The film plays with Michael’s past by presenting it in a off-putting manner, with scenes set a 1980s laugh-tracked, fantasy-of-my-life sitcom called The Ausiellos. This is one of the film’s few failing points.
When Kit becomes ill from appendicitis, the arrival of Kit’s parents presents some lovely cast additions: Sally Field, who starred in director Michael Showalter’s 2015 comedy-drama Hello, My Name Is Doris is his sympathetic mom, with Bill Irwin as the caring dad. Their first appearance comes after a comic rearrangement of Kit’s apartment, as Kit is fearful that his come-outtance might throw a homophobic wrench in the family dynamic. Somehow Kit missed the revelation that his parents are “kinda hip” and just want what’s best for him.
The cute meet-up moments are adorable as the duo, each with an eccentricity here and there, find that their neuroses get eased as their love/chemistry develops. Filled with keen observant and honest life revelations that warms the heart before the moments of despair, Spoiler Alert offers up a warming cup of hot cocoa in a tragicomic setting. Yes, you’ll need some Kleenex nearby during the sadder moments, but most of the time the film steers a straight-forward path that its principals grace with heartfelt performances.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).