Who doesn’t love a good tearjerker? Thankfully, there is so much more to queer romance Spoiler Alert than simply leaving the viewer in a huge puddle of tears, though it certainly does accomplish this feat. Driven by magnificent, emotional turns from Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge, Spoiler Alert, based on Michael Ausiello’s non-fiction book Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, is definitely my favorite LGBT+ film of the year. Helming the feature is actor/writer/director Michael Showalter—known for starring in Wet Hot American Summer, as well as directing The Eyes of Tammy Faye and The Big Sick, among others. Be sure to bring the tissues for a surprisingly poignant and touching meditation on what a real love story looks like. As someone who once followed Ausiello’s journey through updates about his lover and the creation of his TV Line site, seeing this story depicted onscreen felt a bit surreal.
The entire tale is narrated by Michael Ausiello (Parsons) as he recalls the epic saga of his relationship with hunky photographer Kit (Aldridge). We first meet Michael while he is working for TV Guide; he pushes for articles about ranking Gilmore Girls characters, yet his boss instead assigns him to Fear Factor recaps. As a pop culture writer myself, I could already relate to the frustrations Ausiello was clearly feeling while working for that company. By some twist of fate though, it is in fact a co-worker at TV Guide who drags Michael along to a pumping gay club in the heart of New York City.
When Michael first locks eyes on Kit, he views the chisel-jawed man as a “sweatband-wearing matinee idol”—in other words, he finds Kit to be completely out of his league. As chance would have it, tall skinny dweebs are exactly Kit’s type. They connect on the dance floor despite Michael being a super awkward dancer, and by the time they first lock lips, I was already smitten with their story. Michael hands over his TV Guide business card when Kit’s cock-blocking drunken female bestie stumbles over, not expecting a callback. To his surprise, future dates start happening almost instantly. Though Kit claims not to own a television and Ausiello is practically required to be in tune with pop culture, they still kick off their courting in style. Kit charms with an impromptu magic trick over dinner before suggesting they go back to Michael’s place.
Both men are hiding insecurities and family histories that serve only to make them well-rounded, realistic characters. As an FFK (former fat kid), Michael suffers from body issues; Kit meanwhile is still in the closet to his loving parents, unsure of when he will even tell them. Kit has never had a real relationship before, nor been monogamous, whilst Michael is a hopeless romantic at heart. They come to the conclusion that they both scare each other—a sure sign that there is truly something special between them. What begins so casually evolves into cuddling together for weekly doses of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and throwing delightful get-togethers as they eventually move into their own apartment.
One of my favorite asides that occurs during the film is a fictional 80s sitcom, The Ausiellos, that stands in to represent different moments in Michael’s young childhood. Living with his mom and brothers shortly after the untimely death of his father, Michael’s home life was complicated, to put it mildly. These segments feature laugh tracks, and they thrive in a sort of tragicomic kind of way. This is perhaps Michael’s way of compartmentalizing his childhood trauma. A TV-obsessed adult imagining his past as a literal television sitcom is a brilliant bit of filmmaking that is sure to play for maximum effect when the scene calls for it.
Through various highs and lows, the chemistry between Parsons and Aldridge super-charges every moment. Sharp scripting is relatable and often oddball, and the specificity of situational humor make Spoiler Alert a one-of-a-kind viewing experience. Michael and Kit have a real sense of fun with one another, prickled with sarcastic barbs and loving adoration. A couple of my favorite moments between them are their first “I love you,” a hilariously awkward bit where Kit’s parents come to visit and Michael is forced to de-gay Kit’s apartment, and intimate chats the two share. Michael’s obsession with The Smurfs and with Christmas are adorable. Christmas itself plays a rather large role in the movie—perhaps apt for one’s next Christmas watchlist, if one needs a movie that will make them sob uncontrollably.
However, as in life, no relationship is as picture-perfect as it may seem. As the years go by, resentments begin to build about career prospects, and the crowds they each choose to align beside. There is no bigger roadblock, however, than cancer. What starts as a minor pain when using the bathroom eventually morphs into a mass that needs to be biopsied, and from there it grows ever more dire. What I appreciated is that Spoiler Alert does not simply wallow in deep sorrow, nor does it try to glamorize any aspect of Kit’s cancer journey. Life is messy, and like I always say, one has to either laugh or cry. As Kit’s parents, Sally Field and Bill Irwin contribute a surprising amount of levity and love to a difficult situation.
Where Spoiler Alert soars is in its hopeful, reflective messaging about death. Ausiello presents a powerful comparison between the best television characters, and saying goodbye to them, against bidding farewell to our loved ones in the real world. At times, I felt the movie was speaking directly to me. It has been just over two years since the loss of my mother to pancreatic cancer, and yet it still feels so fresh. I am not so sure a loss so major can ever be reconciled, but there is always a way forward that remains respectful and true to the wishes of the ones we love. Saying goodbye to your favorite characters is inevitable, as all good things must eventually come to an end. It may be a hard truth, but I cannot think of a more nuanced, beautiful expression of this vital lesson than in Michael Showalter’s Spoiler Alert.
Be prepared for a major Spoiler Alert when this wonderful drama drops in theaters on Friday, December 9th.