Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage
Stars: Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field, and Bill Irwin
Synopsis: The story of Michael Ausiello and Kit Cowan’s relationship that takes a tragic turn when Cowan is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It won’t be hard for you to cry at Michael Showalter’s latest film, Spoiler Alert, even when it keeps telling you that the story will end with Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge) dying. The movie even opens with Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) in the hospital, lying with Cowan in his final moments. And yet, after going through the emotional journey with the two, it won’t be hard to shed a few tears as the movie wraps up. It doesn’t always work, and feels too conventional for my taste, but the movie remains an admirable effort nonetheless.
Part of the reason why it’s effective is due to the two lead performances from Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge, who bring a great amount of emotional depth to their respective characters. Ausiello and Cowan have a natural relationship together, and the actors’ chemistry is incredible. It’s the main reason that the film is as good as it is, because it re-treads many standard tropes from illness-driven biopics. At first, their relationship is incredible, even if they’re not necessarily “perfect” matches. Kit’s physique is much more imposing than Michael’s, who reveals he was a “former fat kid,” as explained through flashbacks that take the aesthetic of an ‘80s sitcom.
However, as time passes, they become more distant, to the point where they start to live separately, in an attempt to “salvage” their marriage. That does not go well, but during the holidays, Michael invites Kit over to dinner and sees him in immense pain. Something is wrong, and it is later revealed that he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Of course, the cancer diagnosis brings the couple closer together, as they share their final moments with deep intimacy and love for each other, alongside Kit’s parents, played by Sally Field and Bill Irwin.
Field and Irwin bring great levity to the material, especially during the more humorous scenes where Michael has to pretend he is just Kit’s friend, not knowing if their parents will accept his son as gay. That particular scene goes on for way too long, but it has the strongest humor of the movie. The comedy doesn’t always work, particularly the “sitcom” bits, but whenever it does, Showalter lingers on the comedy for way too long. For instance, in one of the film’s most poignant moments, Michael attempts to try weed with Kit, as it will be the last chance he will ever be able to do so. The scene starts playful enough, but stretches out to near-interminable lengths. Sure, the point of the sequence is to see Michael make a fool of himself, but did we need to see him painstakingly smoke weed twice? I don’t know about that…
The sitcom bits are also excruciatingly unfunny. At first, it’s novel enough to make us chuckle, but it quickly overstays its welcome as it goes into “dramatic” territory and still tries to make us laugh as Michael’s mother gets diagnosed with cancer with the old coughing of blood cliché to signal to the audience that the character is dying. It doesn’t work, and feels manipulative, compared to the more earnest, and emotionally poignant relationship with Kit and Michael.
When the movie either focuses on the two, or on Kit’s parents, it works. Michael develops a fun pair with Kit’s mother, whom Sally Field gives just the right amount of depth to her character to make the chemistry feel authentic. And there are plenty of scenes involving her character where it’s nothing but contemplation on what will happen next when Kit eventually passes away. These scenes aren’t easy to watch, but Field anchors her performance in a way that makes you sympathize with her, as if she were your own mother. And it’s harder to watch every character say goodbye to Kit, as the opening scene plays again, with more context, which only makes you want to ugly cry in the best way possible.
Sure, it’s an amazingly conventional biopic, going through the ups and downs of Michael’s time with Kit. But it’s also increasingly earnest, which most biopics lacknowadays. The film is primarily worth seeing for the lead performances of Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge, who give the movie the emotional power it needs to work from beginning to end. And that’s good enough for me.