Spoiler Alert, 2022.
Directed by Michael Showalter.
Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field, Bill Irwin, Josh Pais, Antoni Porowski, Nikki M. James, Jeffery Self, Tara Summers, Winslow Bright, Allegra Heart, Sadie Scott, Shunori Ramanathan, Kate Pittard, Christine Renee Miller, Erica Cho, David Marshall Grant, and Brody Caines.
The story of Michael Ausiello and Kit Cowan’s relationship that takes a tragic turn when Cowan is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
From its opening moments, Spoiler Alert has no interest in hiding that one of the lovers in its central relationship died from a terminal illness. It is more concerned with how characters and reality intertwine, as early 2000s TV journalist Michael Ausiello (who wrote the memoir these events are based on, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, and is played here by sitcom royalty Jim Parsons) frequently narrates tying the two concepts together. There are also playful ideas, such as taking Michael’s tragic past and accompanying flashbacks, presenting them as an old-fashioned sitcom, although they don’t particularly add much insight and lack memorable charm.
Unfortunately, this mostly empty style doesn’t add much to director Michael Showalter’s (working with a script from David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage) standard romance that succumbs to disease of the week tropes. One refreshing aspect is that Michael is gay, and the ensuing attraction that develops between him and handsome and confident Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge) is sweet and unencumbered by melodrama regarding their sexuality.
There’s a pleasant moment of subversion when Kit, who is struggling to tell his parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin) that he is gay, is visited by his parents, with Michael also present, where the secret comes out only to find enthusiastic support. This also lends Spoiler Alert a light and humorous touch that seamlessly weaves into the TV journalist/sitcom angle.
However, the relationship itself goes through the motions, often not digging deep enough into anything remotely fascinating that’s discovered about these characters. When Michael and Kit are sexually intimate for the first time, the former expresses panic over removing his shirt due to lingering trauma from being bullied as a “former fat kid.” Ten minutes later, Michael narrates why Christmas has always been important in his life, which also ends up underdeveloped and more of a reason for Focus to release the film close to Christmas. Much of Spoiler Alert is surface-level, presumably because the filmmakers only have so much time before the story has to shift gears into something overly familiar and saccharine.
The one upside here is that Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge consistently find real emotion in the cancer drama. Although, that makes it doubly frustrating that they don’t get to fully explore other complexities of their lives and relationship, such as Michael’s body image anxiety and Kit’s photography. There is even a brief midsection where the relationship has hit some barriers, with Kit possibly cheating on Michael, which also registers as glossed over more than anything. By the time Spoiler Alert is driving home its point about processing death, it’s also tough to shake that the playful structure of occasionally mixing fantasy and reality has gone a bit too far.
None of this is to say Spoiler Alert is without merit, as it is uniquely moving to see something stale, nonetheless told from the perspective of a gay romance built on magnetic chemistry and winning performances. If the filmmakers had leaned more into that instead of painting a safe and schmaltzy portrait of cancer or found more time to explore their insecurities and how such things become trivial and nonexistent when time is running out (there is at least one scene that accomplishes this), it would be fine that everything is spoiled from the beginning.
Simultaneously, Spoiler Alert is easy to watch for the first two-thirds of its running time, quickly becoming a series of sanitized scenes depicting this cancer (usually combined with sappy music). Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge keep things tolerable, either with comedy or through the few tender slow moments where they are granted time and space to act beautifully and express love. Beyond that, the real spoiler is that much of what the movie is doing is half-baked.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com