Telegraphed in both its title and opening sequence, Spoiler Alert braces its audience for an unhappy ending from the get-go. But, as much as Michael Showalter‘s handkerchief-ready drama adheres to a familiar structure within the “terminal illness romance” genre – ala The Fault in Our Stars or Holding the Man – the film thankfully isn’t defined by being an AIDS drama. It’s a love story, first and foremost.
As a love story it has a certain universal appeal to it, but it’s also smart enough to honour its queer core, tackling issues such as open relationships, coming out to your parents, and finding comfort in both your own sexuality and body image. Similar to last year’s vastly underrated Bros, Spoiler Alert speaks directly to its gay audience whilst honouring a narrative structure that doesn’t alienate straight audiences in the process.
Based on American television industry journalist Michael Ausiello’s 2017 memoir “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies”, Jim Parsons exudes warmth and likeable awkwardness as Michael himself. Due to his evident affection for all things television and entertainment, David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage‘s script cleverly contextualise Michael’s own childhood through the lens of an 80’s sitcom, breaking away from the film at key moments to showcase a young Michael (Brody Caines) and how his survival through an adolescence of fatphobic and homophobic insults dictated both his career and how he defines what it is to truly be loved.
This emphasis on television also helps explain why Michael is particularly introverted, has an obsession with Gilmore Girls and collecting Smurfs, and struggles to find a place for himself in the body-image obsessed world of the New York dating scene. It’s also why when he meets Kit (Ben Aldridge, the charming actor having an absolute moment right now between this and Knock at the Cabin) he’s overwhelmed when it comes to their physical interaction and weary of letting him see inside his apartment; cue amusing Smurf collection realisation.
It’s through such situational moments that Spoiler Alert flexes its ease in presenting a queer romantic relationship. It helps that Parsons and Aldridge (both out gay actors) have an easy chemistry between them, but the obligatory “coming out” scene is refreshingly average – yes, it’s possible for parents to be okay with their children being gay – as Kit’s mother, Marilyn (Sally Field, a gem), is more perturbed that she didn’t know sooner. There’s also a casualness to how the film addresses separation and staying friends with your ex in the queer community, when, through clever editing, it’s revealed Michael and Kit – over a decade into their relationship – are living in separate houses, something they openly, happily discuss at a joint Christmas dinner with friends.
It’s this scene that will ultimately drive the film toward the crux of the narrative we are already anticipating – that of Kit’s cancer diagnosis. The illness reunites the couple, and instead of bogging us down with expository dialogue or big grand speeches (although Parsons has an enjoyably melodramatic moment where he demands Kit receive a hospital bed, and proudly admits he was going for a “Shirley MacLaine” moment in the process), Parsons and Aldridge capture the devastating reality through the smallest of looks; no emotional beat hitting harder than when the two sit in a diner together in silence following the news.
Despite us knowing there’s a tragic end in sight from the opening seconds, Spoiler Alert manages to not entirely be a depressing watch. It’s sad, without question, and I would advise on having a packet of tissues on hand (I certainly needed them), but there’s also a joyousness to Showalter’s film. It projects the notion of loving unconditionally and honestly, and even in the final days of Kit’s life he embraces all that he has, rather than lamenting on all that he’ll be losing. Similarly for Michael, he cherishes Kit, even at one point saying that it’s okay to let go during the literal last seconds of Kit’s life, knowing he doesn’t want him to suffer anymore.
As easy as it is to roll your eyes at the thought of another gay doomed romance, Spoiler Alert isn’t utilising its queer ingredient to justify its use of tragedy. It’s a story that has universal commonality, unfortunately, and this one just so happens to be told through the eyes of a gay man.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Spoiler Alert is screening in Australian theatres from February 9th, 2023.