Based on his memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, Spoiler Alert tells the story of Michael Ausiello and his husband Kit Cowan as they navigate their relationship and Kit’s terminal cancer diagnosis. Starring Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge, Spoiler Alert is directed by Michael Showalter from a script penned by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage.
We first meet Michael and Kit at the end of their story, with Kit dying in his hospital bed before being transported back to the day they met. Michael, a staff writer for TV guide, is a shy and soft-spoken man. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do drugs, and he’s emotionally guarded due to his traumatic childhood losses. Kit, on the other hand, is out (to everyone but his parents), loud and proud to be sexually liberated. A photographer, Kit exudes vibrancy and vitality. The pair meet at a gay club’s jock-themed night that Michael was dragged to and have an instant connection; before long they’re attempting to navigate their own neuroses as they try their hand at monogamous dating, with both men remarking how this relationship scares and excites them.
Parsons and Aldridge have an incredible on-screen chemistry that feels effortlessly flirtatious. Their banter is smooth, the physicality is tender and even when they’re fighting about sex and commitment there is a love between them that underlies everything. Both men are indeed flawed, but Spoiler Alert makes the effort to humanise them completely, baring their vulnerabilities and lovable quirks in equal measure. It’s easy to see how they could’ve fallen for each other; Kit mellows Michael out a little while Michael ignites Kit’s bravery.
Keeping true to Ausiello’s memoir, the relationship between Michael and Kit is incredibly raw and authentic; showing both men at their emotional low points as well as the high points helps to keep the film grounded amidst some of its more stylistic cinematography and narrative framing. Michael, being a lover of TV, frequently processes his negative emotions as though he were on a classic 80s sitcom, laugh track and corny opening credits included.
They keep this motif running throughout the film and these moments sometimes feel a little jarring, removing viewers from reality, though ultimately they get their point across – that Michael is ill-equipped to handle emotional turmoil. It doesn’t seem like Showalter is trying to use them to balance drama with comedy, indeed these scenes still carry a lot of weight in spite of the bright colours and quippy one-liners, but rather they make the tragic moments of Michael’s early life somewhat more palatable for the audience as well as himself.
Where Spoiler Alert deserves most of its praise, and perhaps this is simply by virtue of the fact that it’s based on a memoir, is its portrayal of a very real, genuine relationship. Movies and TV often paint idyllic pictures of romantic relationships, that they’re either sweepingly grand or unbelievably tragic, but very rarely do they sit somewhere in the middle, teetering back and forth between either extreme.
Michael and Kit’s relationship, while appearing to be fast moving actually spans just over fourteen years, and in that time the couple went from nervous first date and first time being physically intimate, to living apart and yelling in therapy before eventually settling on reconciliation in the face of Kit’s terminal diagnosis. The characters and problems of Spoiler Alert are so rooted in reality, and the film doesn’t shy away from normal, common issues that most couples face; in doing so everything on screen feels more tangible.
While it’s sad and unfortunate that Kit and Michael couldn’t have their happy ending (a typical scenario for couples in LGBTQ+ films), Spoiler Alert does succeed in being an honestly good, sweet, sensitive film that is beautifully acted by Parsons and Aldridge and is 100% guaranteed to destroy your heartstrings. Bring tissues, you’ll need them.