A Well-Acted Memoir Struggles to Find Tonal Balance

Journalist Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) chronicles his relationship with Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge), who died tragically from cancer in 2015.

Focus Features

Spoiler Alert chronicles the romance, marriage, and eventual tragic ending of the relationship between journalist Michael Ausiello and photographer Kit Cowan. Based on Ausiello’s 2017 memoir, we know from the start that Cowan lost his battle with aggressive neuroendocrine cancer. His death was not meant to be the defining remembrance of their romance. Ausiello shows how the outgoing and handsome Cowan won an introvert’s heart. The film frankly depicts a homosexual couple without lurid or salacious intent. They met, fell in love, and dealt with all the bumpy roads people face together. Unfortunately, Spoiler Alert misses the mark with a tonal balancing act. It’s use of comedy and fantasy to soften the blow of a crushing loss doesn’t work. It’s particularly evident in a puzzling climax that sabotages the most compelling moment.

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Jim Parsons stars as Michael, who was obsessed with television from an early age. He imagines his youth as a family sitcom with a laugh track. That’s how he learned to process adversity and grief. Spoiler Alert flashes back to these fantasy scenes throughout when Michael faces crisis. In 2002, he worked as a reporter for TV Guide in New York City. Michael, buttoned-up and sheepish, reluctantly agrees to go clubbing with a coworker. He locks eyes from the bar with Kit (Ben Aldridge) on the dance floor. They have instant chemistry, but Michael doesn’t go for the easy sexual liaison.

Several dates later, the pair learn each other’s hidden secrets. Kit laughs when he discovers Michael’s fixation with collecting Smurfs memorabilia. His apartment could be a Smurf village. Kit has not come out to his parents. Marilyn (Sally Field) and Bob (Bill Irwin) think Michael is just a dear friend. This changes when Kit has an issue that requires everyone’s help. Time passes and the couple takes their relationship to the next level. Marilyn and Bob come to adore Michael as Kit’s partner. When the couple encounter trust problems after a decade living together, an unexpected medical diagnosis reaffirms their strong commitment.

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Spoiler Alert’s Ensemble Cast

Spoiler Alert is well-acted by the ensemble cast. Parsons is completely unrecognizable from The Big Bang Theory character that made him a household name. His turn as Michael feels honest and genuine. He was unsure of himself in many ways until meeting Kit. Aldridge gives Kit a magnetic, vibrant personality. He was the sun in everyone’s orbit. Kit’s fear of admitting his lifestyle preferences bolsters a good second act. Marilyn and Bob loved their son unconditionally. They recognized that Michael made Kit happy and brought out the best in him. Every parent should be as understanding and compassionate.

Spoiler Alert muddies the water with its attempt at humor and cleverness. Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, The Eyes of Tammy Faye), a sharp director that I admire, doesn’t quite get the mixture of comedy and drama. Some bits, like the Smurfs, work and endears the characters to the audience. But cutting away from the most heartbreaking scenes for reality asides was a big mistake. It’s evident what the filmmakers were trying to achieve. Ausiello and Showalter wanted to avoid a tearjerker finale. They needed a less jarring response. You can’t build up to a defining scene, and then pull the rug out.

Spoiler Alert is produced by That’s Wonderful Productions and Semi-Formal Productions. It will have a December 2nd limited theatrical release and national distribution on December 9th from Focus Features.



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