Full disclosure: I used to read Michael Ausiello’s writing in TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly, but I had no idea going into Spoiler Alert that the film was based on his 2017 memoir, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, which chronicles his relationship with partner (and eventual husband) Kit Cowan. In some ways, the film plays out like a PG-13 version of the recent Bros, examining the tricky and complex nature of gay relationships. But eventually, Spoiler Alert turns into something transformative when it becomes the story of two people who become even closer when one of them falls ill.
Jim Parsons plays Ausiello as a somewhat persnickety personality and a gifted writer who is always on the move, traveling and interviewing famous people, and even sometimes seeing his life from the perspective of a TV show, with himself as the lead and others as simply characters moving in and out of his life. When things get tough for him, he reverts to the fat kid he was growing up, watching soap operas with his mother and falling in love with the experience of watching television with a critical eye. Directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) and working from a screenplay by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage, Spoiler Alert moves back and forth in time as we see the early days of Ausiello’s 14-year relationship with Kit (Ben Aldridge) blended with more recent scenes of Kit and Michael coping with Kit’s cancer diagnosis that eventually killed him within a year (thus the memoir’s title).
Coming out of sketch comedy, Showalter can’t resist throwing in purely comedic moments, like the shocking sequence in which Kit first visits Michael’s apartment, only to discover that he has a massive collection of Smurfs and Smurfs-related memorabilia. How the production designers even found that many collectables is impossible to comprehend. Perhaps more predictable, the scene where Kit finally introduces Michael to his parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin) is heightened all the more when he uses the moment to come out to them as well.
The film isn’t particularly original as either a love story or a life-affirming, death’s bed drama, but Parsons and Aldridge have so much chemistry that I bought their journey even as they’re just getting to know each other. Still, as funny as their early days are and as emotional as their last year was, it’s the material in between that I found most believable and interesting; they are the building blocks of a long-term relationship, and those years should be celebrated (or at least acknowledged) as well, even if some of them include time apart and bouts of infidelity. Spoiler Alert isn’t trying to break new ground, but it does want to create an authentic, modern romance and embrace all that comes with it. On that level, it succeeds the most.
The film begins playing theatrically on Friday.
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