‘Spoiler Alert’ Gives Its Ending Away and Gains Something Sweeter in the Process

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Ben Aldridge stars as Kit Cowan and Jim Parsons as Michael Ausiello in director Michael Showalter's 'Spoiler Alert.' (Courtesy of Focus Features / © 2022 FOCUS FEATURES LLC)

During the opening scene of Spoiler Alert, the camera observes a couple cradling each other in a hospital bed. In his voiceover monologue, Michael (Jim Parsons) tells us that his husband Kit (Ben Aldridge) will soon die of cancer.

Even though the audience immediately knows where this is going, Michael and Kit’s relationship is depicted as a love story rather than “just a tragic sob story” (Michael Ausiello’s words, who wrote the memoir of the same name). And so Spoiler Alert appears to be a  straightforward walk down the well-traveled road of movie rom-coms.

Michael and Kit embody the trope of an “opposites attract” couple. Kit’s the cool New York City kid: he’s an amateur photographer, his arty friends wear the right outfits to nightclubs, they look and feel at home grooving on the dance floor. When Kit asks Michael to dance, Michael declines and says it’s really not his scene. A few dates later, he reluctantly brings Kit to his New Jersey apartment. Once inside, he reveals a vast collection of unsexy Smurf paraphernalia. At this stage of their relationship, Michael hasn’t yet settled into adulthood.

Two white men stand close and smile at each other in pink lit dance scene
Jim Parsons stars as Michael Ausiello and Ben Aldridge as Kit Cowan in 'Spoiler Alert.' (Linda Källérus / © 2022 FOCUS FEATURES LLC)

For over a decade, Parsons played Sheldon Cooper on the television show The Big Bang Theory, a role that secured his everlasting sitcom fame but didn’t point in an obvious direction for a cinematic afterlife. But in Spoiler Alert, Parsons’ Michael — an introverted, emotionally recessive man — slowly begins to recover from his childhood wounds. With Kit by his side, the character matures on screen in a way that Sheldon, after many seasons on air, was seldom allowed to do.

Establishing the story’s ending from the start allows Spoiler Alert to more genuinely depict the dynamics of the romance at its center. Ausiello says his real-life relationship with Kit was rooted in a particular kind of dark humor. “Much of the year that Kit was sick, we relied on that dark humor,” he explained in a recent Zoom interview. “We defaulted to our comedic sensibilities and that helped us get through a really difficult year.”

Three white men on a balcony standing arm-in-arm
Actor Ben Aldridge, writer Michael Ausiello and actor Jim Parsons on the set of 'Spoiler Alert.' (Linda Källérus / © 2022 FOCUS FEATURES LLC)

This is part of the reason why Parsons optioned the memoir and Michael Showalter, the director, was drawn to the project. “It was a gay love story that had a tragic element,” Ausiello says. “But the story was also filled with hope, humor and joy.” Unlike the films Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias, where the dramatic momentum builds to a heartbreaking crescendo, Spoiler Alert puts its cards on the table from the start, without falling prey to the Hollywood template of doomed gay romance.

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Longtime Companion, nationally released in 1989, set that tone for decades. Until Brokeback Mountain, it was exceedingly rare to watch a movie in which gay male protagonists suffered from an illness, or from anything else, that wasn’t HIV/AIDS-related (Keep the Lights On is a notable exception to this rule).

Spoiler Alert doesn’t draw any parallels between Kit’s cancer and HIV/AIDS but it’s impossible to set that history aside as he loses his hair and body weight. When the camera introduces Michael and Kit together, they’re in a hospital bed, not a conjugal one. And it looks like the hospital rooms we’ve seen before in films like Philadelphia, The Normal Heart and André Téchiné’s The Witnesses.

Older white woman and white man stand on a path in outerwear
Sally Field stars as Marilyn and Jim Parsons as Michael Ausiello in 'Spoiler Alert.' (Courtesy of Focus Features / © 2022 FOCUS FEATURES LLC)

Even while playing against genre, Spoiler Alert cannily acknowledges its precursors: In a nod to her role as the grieving mother in Steel Magnolias, Sally Field plays Kit’s mother. But Spoiler Alert doesn’t succumb to her movie star presence or resumé; Field doesn’t get in the way of Parsons’ performance — he’s in nearly every scene.

At one point in the film, Michael has a Shirley MacLaine-sized temper tantrum at the hospital. Kit quips that it does justice to her performance in Terms of Endearment. Michael’s fit suddenly ends and he beams a smile of intense satisfaction toward his husband. Michael and Kit were meant for each other.

‘Spoiler Alert’ opens in Bay Area theaters on Friday, Dec. 2.