Spoiler Alert Review – Jim Parsons Delivers Best Work in Old Fashioned Weepy

Spoiler Alert based on television journalist Michael Ausiello’s memoir ‘Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies’ is an old fashioned weepy. The film is also comedic, charming, and boasts Jim Parsons’ best performance since The Normal Heart. There are layers to Michael Showalter’s movie that can be best appreciated by knowing a little a bit about classic sitcoms and soaps. The fact that Parsons himself is best known for The Big Bang Theory is in itself a clever piece of meta-commentary. However, despite the little flourishes that predominantly television writers Dan Savage (himself an openly queer man and activist) and David Marshall Grant inject into their screenplay, what makes Spoiler Alert special is its commitment to emotional honesty.

The film opens with Ausiello (Jim Parsons) revealing the ending – so we know that there is no happy-ever-after for Michael and his husband Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge). Kit dies of a rare form of cancer. Showalter then chronicles the relationship between the couple and does so by investigating Ausiello’s own neuroses and pain that led him into the “make believe” world of television.

Michael is pitching a hilarious story about The Gilmore Girls to his editor at TVGuide in the early 2000s. His editor looks at him blankly and suggests he writes a recap of Fear Factor instead, completely misinterpreting Michael’s talents. A workaholic, Michael agrees, but is convinced by his flamboyant workmate, Nick (Jeffrey Self) to ditch work just for the night and go out clubbing.

The world of gay clubs isn’t really one that Michael feels comfortable in. Far from fitting in with the world of hook-ups and beautiful bodies he is surprised when the gorgeous Kit pays attention to him. Kit’s friend Nina (Nikki M. James) drunkenly blurts out that Michael is exactly Kit’s type – tall and a bit geeky. Michael and Kit kiss a little but are interrupted when Nina insists that Kit take her home because she’s wrecked. Michael give Kit his business card and is surprised when Kit calls him and asks him for a date.

On paper Michael and Kit’s relationship shouldn’t work. Kit is a photographer who doesn’t even own a television. Michael’s life has been defined by fictional narratives, so much so that he imagines his past as a sitcom with his young self (Brody Caines) receiving warmth and wisdom from his mother Mrs Ausiello (Tara Summers) who comforts the lonely and overweight kid whilst they watch soap operas together. Michael’s mother died of cancer when he was still quite young, and he hasn’t let go of the trauma of her loss. Kit seems extremely well put together but hasn’t yet come out to his family about his sexuality. Nevertheless the two fall in love and despite their differences share a lovely chemistry which makes the inevitable tragedy all the more impactful.

The film is not an exercise into gay misery – in fact it subverts that notion. One of the most hilarious scenes in the film is when Michael and Kit’s roommate Kirby (Sadie Scott) have to de-gay Michael’s apartment before his parents Marilyn (Sally Field) and Bob (Bill Irwin) arrive to stay there after Kit has had surgery for appendicitis. Marilyn and Bob can’t quite work out why this Michael person is there and why he knows certain things like where the sheets are kept. The jig is up, and Kit comes out to them. There is no overdramatic refusal to accept Kit’s sexuality, in fact Marilyn is mostly annoyed that her son didn’t tell her earlier.

As the years pass Kit and Michael move in together to an apartment that honours both Kit’s artistic taste and Michael’s obsession with pop culture and Smurfs (the introduction to Michael’s apartment is cringeworthy and hilarious, but also heartfelt as we understand why he collects Smurfs). Michael is the more sentimental of the two – he adores Christmas and every year he makes a big deal out if. Lying under the tree he imagines himself and Kit spending the holiday together until both are too old to look up at the tree without hurting their backs. Theirs has the potential to be a forever relationship.

Reality doesn’t quite work that way. Over the thirteen years they are together resentment sets in. Michael can’t quite drag himself away from his work and neglects Kit. Kit is unfaithful. They end up living apart which is why when Kit starts to feel the symptoms of his cancer Michael hasn’t been there to see them develop. Of course Michael goes into panic mode at the very thought of Kit being ill and immediately catastrophises. They seek out doctors who will treat Kit, but in the end the cancer is too rare and aggressive to be cured and the treatments are making him even sicker.

Sally Field is tremendous as Marilyn Cowan – she has played a mother grieving the loss of a child before, most memorably in Steel Magnolias as M’Lynn Eaton. Her every gesture after she becomes aware of Kit’s diagnosis speaks to how unfair it is for a mother to have to endure the death of a child. There really is no way to deal with such a tragedy with dignity and Field doesn’t pretend there is. All that time allows is that Michael, Bob, and Marilyn be with Kit as often as they can and confirm their love for him.

It would be easy for Spoiler Alert to devolve into cliches, and there is a certain tweeness to parts of the script. Yet it is an earnest film, and a kind one. Even Parsons’ voice over which can be at times a little grating comes to be a benefit. Also, the casting of two openly gay men as the leads is a wonderful step forward in authentic representation. One that is also on display with Ben Aldridge’s other film for 2023, M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin.

Tapping into Jim Parsons’ skill for comedy is deft but Spoiler Alert also allows the actor to prove that he has serious dramatic skills. It doesn’t take long to realise that we are not watching Sheldon Cooper but a nuanced and complicated person who wears his pain on his sleeve.

Spoiler Alert is designed to make the audience laugh and cry. It is also deeply empathetic cinema. Yes, there are times where it tries a little too hard to wring emotion out of the audience, but that can be forgiven just as it has been in so many films of its type – those like 1970’s Love Story or so many Sirkian melodramas. Spoiler Alert is about love, death, and dignity and what it does to create those themes on screen far outweighs any emotional manipulation it uses to tell Ausiello’s true story. Bring tissues.

Director: Michael Showalter

Cast: Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field

Writers: David Marshall Grant, Dan Savage (based on Michael Ausiello’s book Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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