Michael Ausiello’s autobiographical book “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies” comes to the screen in an honest, heartbreaking, and hilarious movie adaptation that should be the blueprint for gay rom-coms to come.
Now just called Spoiler Alert, the script by Dan Savage (Savage Love) and actor/writer David Marshall Grant (A Million Little Things) is one of the most perceptive gay films to come about in a long time. While Bros certainly got the attention this year, that perfectly entertaining, over-the-top comedy looks like Airplane next to the truths that fill every scene of this film.
Jim Parsons plays Michael Ausiello himself, a nerdy, lanky TV writer who works too much and would rather spend the night surrounded by his Smurf collection than go to a gay club. But one night, a friend drags him out, and there meets Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge), a sexy, bearded hunk with a nerdy quality of his own. Instantly sparking a connection, the two exchange numbers and quickly move to Date #1. This is notable because the date itself is not only just flat-out charming, but the conversations the two have are two-fold. At once, they are typical first date banter that any couple – no matter their orientation – can relate to. But it also hits on several topics exclusive to gay people. “Are you out to your family?” being one of them.
Later in the film, when Michael and Kit go home to Kit’s apartment and start having sex, Michael balks when having to take off his shirt. A skinny guy, he admits he was an FFK (“former fat kid”) and, as a result, has body image issues, something all gender identities can relate to. Kit is lovingly understanding and suggests the two talk instead, which is when they have the “when did you know you were gay?” discussion. Straight couples don’t have to go through these conversations, and the fact that something so natural to gay folk is handled as matter-of-factly is wonderful to see. Representation matters, and as small as these moments were, they have a huge impact on feeling seen.
The film plays out over the course of the two becoming a couple, Kit coming out to his parents (played by the adorable Sally Field and Bill Irwin), moving in together, struggling with relationship issues, and, eventually, having to deal with tragedy.
It’s no surprise that Kit not only gets cancer but he dies from it. This is the entire basis of the book and the film. The tragic ending is positioned right up front so there are no surprises. Kit’s eventual death isn’t a heart-wrenching plot point to discover; it’s the catalyst for why the story is being told in the first place.
This is something the script does so well. Because in between the serious and tear-jerking moments, so many witty and observational beats allow the sad stuff not to overwhelm the story. That said, you won’t escape this film with a dry eye.
Jim Parsons gives a career-best performance here, infusing Michael with a geeky vulnerability that is profoundly moving. There’s an understated stoicism to his character that reflects his traumas but doesn’t take away from this appeal. We understand why Kit falls for him and why this man would want to share his love story with the world.
Aldridge is a find here. Having worked in theater and television for years, he is making quite a name for himself. (He next co-stars in M. Night Shylaman’s thriller Knock at the Cabin) Affably charming and undeniably sexy, Aldridge carries a lot with his character. From his reluctance to come out to his family to the sexual temptations that arise, to the cancer, he plays it all effortlessly, and it’s easy to understand why Michael falls for him. The two make a beautifully contrasting pair that easily plucks at our heartstrings. (There is a quiet scene at a restaurant as the two take in the news of Kit’s fate that is one of the best scenes in film this year.)
While there are really no missteps in this beautiful film, the underuse of Sally Field is noticeable. While she is effective in the overattentive and understanding mom role, I was hoping to see more of her. There’s also a small, almost wordless side character played by “Queer Eye’s” Antoni Porowski that was distracting because of his familiarity.
But those are minor quibbles. Spoiler Alert is one of the most honest looks at a gay relationship I’ve seen in a long time. Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) directs one of the few LGBTQ+ movies where I felt I could deeply relate to the conversation and didn’t feel spoken down to. It was a movie about a couple who happened to be gay that went through the trials and tribulations of a love cut short. It doesn’t announce its gayness. It doesn’t brag about its inclusivity. It just tells a relatable, beautiful story that will undoubtedly stay with audiences for a long time.