In the summer and fall of 2022, “Fire Island” and “Bros” made their debut as high-profile gay rom-coms, turning the well-known genre on its head. Now, just in time for Christmas, we have “Spoiler Alert,” a heartbreaking holiday whiner about two men in love who battle cancer together. Based on TV journalist Michael Ausiello’s memoir, “Spoiler Alert” tells the story of Ausiello’s marriage to Kit Cowan: how they fell in love and forged a partnership, with all the attendant struggles of a long-term relationship, and then went through Kit’s fight with one together rare form of neuroendocrine cancer.
The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons plays Michael, the dweeby-cute TV nerd who writes for TV Guide and collects Smurf paraphernalia, while English actor Ben Aldridge plays Kit, an undeniably hot aspiring photographer. One night after work, a co-worker drags Michael to a bar for a “jock night,” where he locks eyes with Kit on the dance floor, and the rest is history.
The screenplay marks the screenwriting debut of Dan Savage, best known for his sex advice column Savage Love for Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger and his long-running podcast Savage Lovecast. Savage adapted Ausiello’s 2017 book with David Marshall Grant, and the screenplay maintains the down-to-earth honesty that feels typical of Savage’s work, despite the film’s cheesy Hollywood romance.
Directed by veteran TV and film Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick,” “Lovebirds,” and “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), “Spoiler Alert” is aesthetically unspectacular save for a few meta-moments designed to show Michael along life avoids media challenges. The characters look to RuPaul’s Drag Race or Felicity for connection and solace, and there’s also the Smurfs collection thing that a psychoanalyst could have a big day with. Showalter also uses TV tropes to capture Michael’s childhood flashbacks to his mother’s own battle with cancer, shot and styled like a ’90s family sitcom, complete with a laugh track. In one particularly heartbreaking moment, Showalter allows Michael to step out of his own grief to assert his side as a television journalist, interviewing Kit as if he were interviewing an actor on set.
Showalter isn’t a cinematic stylist per se, but rather a wacky filmmaker who manages tone and pacing. The meta-TV moments make Spoiler Alert more interesting to watch and help illustrate our protagonist’s mindset, but you almost wish the filmmakers had continued the imagination. Balancing that experimentation with the film’s other goal, which is to be a big bottom-of-the-middle mainstream romance, is a challenge.
Although Parsons’ portrayal doesn’t always work, “Spoiler Alert” is a standout for Aldridge, who demonstrates his leading Adonis potential as Kit, as well as his ability to break your heart. Along with Sally Field, who plays his mother Marilyn, the two bring a sincerity to their performances that deliver the gut punch that will bring tears to your eyes. Despite the narrative elements that are part of Michael’s coping mechanisms, Aldridge and Field effectively salvage the emotional core of “Spoiler Alert,” bringing us back to the heart of the matter and giving room to the feelings that should flow freely in a film like this. Spoiler alert: don’t forget the tissues.
Walsh is a film critic for the Tribune News Service.
Rated: PG-13, for sexual content, drug use, and themed elements
Duration: 1 hour 52 minutes
To play: Begins December 2, AMC The Grove, Los Angeles; AMC City of the Century
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-12-01/review-spoiler-alert-jim-parsons-ben-aldridge-sally-field ‘Spoiler Alert’ review: Bring tissues. Lots of them