‘Spoiler Alert’: Romantic Tear-Jerker Tells an Authentic Love Story
“Spoiler Alert,” Michael Showalter’s emotionally impactful and humorous feature based on Michael Ausiello’s memoir, “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies,” is an authentic love story that confronts cancer. Jim Parsons stars as a version of Ausiello, giving an endearing performance as the shy television critic who falls in love with a charming photographer, Kit Cowan (Ben Aldrige). The moving and funny film tells of the couple’s 13-year love story, from its rom-com beginnings to its heart-wrenching conclusion, with plenty of ups and downs along the way.
Michael, whom we first meet when he is writing for TV Guide in the early 2000s, meets Kit on a rare night that a coworker has convinced him to come out to a club. There, he locks eyes on Kit for the first time. There’s an immediate connection, but Michael has a hard time believing he has a shot until Kit gives him a call soon after. From there, Parsons and Aldridge light up the screen as Michael and Kit navigate having a relationship, including their first intimate moments (former “fat kid” Michael experiences some initial awkwardness in the bedroom), mixing their friends, celebrating their first Christmas together, and Kit’s coming out to his parents, Marilyn (Sally Field) and Bob (Bill Irwin).
What starts off as a relatable romantic comedy takes a turn more than a decade into Michael and Kit’s relationship. Like a lot of couples, they eventually hit a rough patch and decide to separate while they work through it. But the real test is when Kit is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. This devastating development makes the men realize how much they mean to each other, and it is moving to watch as Michael stands by Kit’s side as he sees multiple specialists, eventually receiving a terminal diagnosis. In the middle of Kit’s medical treatments, they decide to renew their commitment and tie the knot.
Showalter, who previously helmed “The Big Sick,” was the perfect director to tackle “Spoiler Alert,” as he knows how to tell a story like this with sensitivity while also helping to bring out its humor. Both Showalter and Ausiello recently had in-depth conversations with Entertainment Voice via Zoom. It goes without saying that this is a very personal story for Ausiello.
“It was hard giving up control of this story, a story that I’m, obviously, very protective of and have a huge investment in,” said Ausiella, who made himself available as a resource for the filmmakers and actors. “It was made easier by the fact that I was giving some of that control over to incredible artists like Jim Parsons and Michael Showalter, and [screenwriters] David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage.”
Said Showalter of Ausiello, “For me, he was always someone who I knew was keeping an eye on making sure that the movie was always, at its core, about these people and their experiences. Michael just had amazing input from the beginning, whether it was about the script or otherwise; he was a great partner on this.”
Although he may always be Dr. Sheldon Cooper to many, Parsons, who starred for 12 seasons on “The Big Bang Theory,” is equally gifted at dramatic acting as he is at comedy, and “Spoiler Alert” showcases all of his facets. From when Michael first shows Kit his apartment full of Smurfs memorabilia — something taken from Ausiello’s real life, though he said the obsession is somewhat exaggerated for laughs — to his coming to terms with having to live a life without Kit, Parsons impresses and keeps the viewer with him through it all.
Ausiello, who went on to write for Entertainment Weekly after TV Guide and now owns his own website TVLine, interviewed Parson multiple times throughout the years, so it was somewhat surreal to see the actor portray him, or rather a version of him. It was actually the idea of Parsons and his husband Todd Spiewak to option his book through their production company, as he moderated a Q&A about it with Ausiello, a beneficial situation that saw the writer getting the tables turned on him.
Showalter had nothing but praise for Parsons. “He’s just really thoughtful in terms of making sure that his characters are always coming from an honest place, so I’m always excited to work with an actor like Jim, who really thinks about his character and thinks about the script and the elements that go into it in helping to create the story.”
“We always had a really fun rapport during these interviews, and I felt a connection to him,” said Ausiello of Parsons. “I felt that we had a very similar sensibility in terms of not taking anything too seriously, including ourselves.”
In the final act of the film, Michael has a poignant line about how his and Kit’s love story was not a fairy tale, but a real love story. Indeed, Ausiello refused to shy away from discussing the imperfect parts of his relationship in his book, and the film also explores these aspects. In an admirable and selfless move, Michael puts aside past jealousies when Kit is on his deathbed, as he allows Sebastian (Antoni Porowski), a coworker Kit was involved with during their separation, to visit him to say his goodbyes.
Ausiello, who refused to sugarcoat anything in his book, was thankful that the filmmakers were also interested in telling a realistic romantic story. “I think there’s a tendency, particularly when you’re dealing with a movie that has a tragic element to it, to put the characters on pedestals in order to soften the edges. I wasn’t interested in telling that story, because that story isn’t real, and it certainly wasn’t my story, and I was very happy that Jim Parsons and Michael Showalter were not interested in telling that story either. They wanted to get into the messiness of love and of relationships, and tell a different kind of fairy tale.”
In our darkest hours, we all have our own coping mechanisms, and the Michael that we see here is no different. Inspired by Michael’s career and passion for television, Grant and Savage came up with the idea to show his flashbacks to his somewhat traumatic childhood in the form of an ’80’s-style sitcom. This distinctive touch works well and not only helps us better understand Michael, but it also reminds the viewer how comforting our favorite shows, as well as films and books, can be when needed, and this was certainly the case for Michael and Kit.
Explained Ausiello, “They just had this really interesting idea of leaning into my obsession with television, and also playing into how television was this savior of mine, in many ways, and got me through some really tough times in my life, including, to some extent, television played a big role, particularly ‘Drag Race,’ in Kit and I getting through that last year.”
“Spoiler Alert” releases Dec. 2 in select theaters, Dec. 9 nationwide.