Based on Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, the just-released tearjerker stars Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge…
By Matthew Creith
“This isn’t how our story was supposed to end, but meeting you was the plot twist I didn’t expect.”
To know a television journalist is to know someone devoted to a medium that’s often regarded as neither rare nor well done. That’s a semi-famous expression about television from 1950s comedian Ernie Kovacs, but the sentiment remains the same in modern times. A television journalist calls it as they see it, discussing content viewers should watch versus the dreck that can be tossed out as a one-season failure. Sometimes cruel in their approach to television, journalists are often underappreciated for their unique perspectives on the medium in question. At the end of the day, they need love too.
So is the story of Michael Ausiello, the founder of TVLine, who launched the website after successful stints writing for TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. Ausiello is a titan in his industry, and his memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words has been adapted to the screen in a new movie called Spoiler Alert. Ausiello describes his 13-year relationship with photographer Kit Cowan in his book and the film about his life. But as the memoir title indicates, Kit dies in the end.
The tearjerker Spoiler Alert stars Jim Parsons as Michael Ausiello, an unlucky-in-love dweeb who seems to have mastered his professional life before he can succeed in his personal one. One night at a local New York City gay bar, Michael meets Kit (Ben Aldridge), and the two hit it off despite not having much in common. While Michael is a soap opera-loving, Felicity supporting, out and proud gay man, Kit is a handsome and outgoing photographer who remains in the closet. They begin dating, Michael admits to his strange obsession with The Smurfs, and the two bond about their families. Michael’s parents have died, while Kit’s parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin) remain closed-minded to the fact that their son might be gay. Their whirlwind romance has some bumps in the beginning, but the two find common ground enough to boyishly say “I love you” to one another without regret.
After some time has passed, and a quick trip to the hospital reveals an appendicitis diagnosis for Kit, Michael finally meets the elder Cowans. With a bit of discreteness that only exists in a sitcom setting like Three’s Company, Michael tries to hide any notion that the two are a couple. However, Kit eventually comes out to his parents, despite his mother’s overbearing tone, and the four become one big happy family.
But as the aforementioned title suggests, this story does not have a happy ending.
Michael and Kit remain together for 13 years, with a rough patch hitting towards the tail end of their relationship. They begin to stop trusting each other, respectively bickering about one thing or the other. Their sex life is affected, their work lives are impacted, and they seek counseling. Little by little, they begin to reconnect. That is until Kit is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and the two must jump over the most significant hurdles ever thrown their way.
Spoiler Alert is not for the faint of heart. It is a story of redemption as much as it is a story about love and loss. Michael and Kit’s romance is one for the ages, complete with an understanding that they may not know everything, but they know they love each other. Despite Michael’s attempts, their life together does not play out like the sitcom occupying space in his head. Instead, it’s a mixture of Terms of Endearment meets Grey’s Anatomy, where trust becomes key and life reverberates hopelessness. Michael might know television better than most, but Kit knows how to make Michael laugh. And that’s what’s essential in a relationship.
Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge are pure magic onscreen, with energetic chemistry that rivals any opposite-sex couple depicted in film in recent memory. Aldridge especially understands the assignment before him, taking on the role of a man who no longer walks the Earth but whose memory lives on in those that knew him best. He is magnetic as Kit and captures so many qualities that probably made Michael fall in love with Kit in the first place. The third act is an emotional rollercoaster regardless if you know what’s coming, so arm yourself with tissues, as you will surely need them.
Directed by Michael Showalter, who brought The Big Sick to theaters in 2017, Spoiler Alert is in capable hands with this director. The sequences of Michael and Kit’s life together are interwoven with scenes straight out of a well-produced 1980s-era television sitcom, where Michael relives some crucial moments of his childhood and relationship with his mother. Showalter handles Michael and Kit’s pain with a delicate embrace of romantic tragedy, just as he did with The Big Sick. Noted queer rights activist Dan Savage and David Marshall Grant have penned a script that brings Kit back to life, even for those extra special moments that inform the audience just how much of a spark was lit when the two men met.
Michael Ausiello is brave for sharing his story with the world in such a unique and positive way. Spoiler Alert might be a romantic tragedy, but it’s a triumph of the will to live on in someone else’s memory. Television can’t do this story justice. It needed to be told on film.