'Spoiler Alert' Compassionately Gives Away Its Heartbreaking Ending

Directed by Michael Showalter

Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Fields, Bill Irwin

Photo: Giovanni Rufino / Focus Features

BY Alisha MughalPublished Dec 5, 2022

It's a sweet mercy that Spoiler Alert begins at the end, at the weeping-heart-and-tear-soaked-pillow-case stage. At the final gasp, before the end credits usually begin their climb to the top of the screen, we meet our protagonist, introducing us to the singular most magnificent love he has ever known, just as that monumental, larger-than-life love is about to give up his hold on life. 

But at the film's actual conclusion, two hours later, we end a bit later than the beginning, on steadier and more hopeful ground — even if he's still heartbroken. This, too, is a kind of mercy. Based on a memoir, Spoiler Alert is deeply, surprisingly intelligent and kind, containing a nuanced retrospective rawness and honesty that elevates this romantic comedy, making it precious for how it shows love for others and for the self. Ultimately reimagining and reinvigorating the tenderness the genre can contain, Spoiler Alert reminds us of how dear rom-coms have always been and how much we need them going forward.

Spoiler Alert contains a seemingly life's worth of crucial advice. Directed by Michael Showalter, the film is based on a screenplay by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage, which in turn is based on Michael Ausiello's memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. It's curious who Ausiello has deemed the tale's hero; traditionally, in autobiography and memoir, the author is seen as the hero, the term often assumed to be synonymous with "protagonist." That he's deemed his partner, Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge), as the hero in the book's title is a testament to — and perhaps a foreshadowing of — Ausiello's tongue-in-cheek and humble honesty. And this honesty is thankfully carried over to the film through Grant and Savage, setting the tone for Ausiello's sweet but nettlesome personality.

Jim Parsons's Michael Ausiello is a TV journalist living in New York City. Michael is nerdy, loves The Smurfs and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things sitcom. He meets the airy and handsome Kit and falls for him immediately. The film follows Michael and Kit as they navigate the tumultuous waters of being in a relationship in a big city, examining how the men's love for one another is tested and preserved despite jealousies, individual growths and regressions, the weight of Michael's past, and ultimately Kit's terminal cancer.

The memoir, and by extension the film, seem to know that it's easier for us to slip into sadness when we know it's coming. Throughout the film, Parsons's narration cradles us, even as the film breaks our hearts. We watch and weep as Michael and Kit make mistakes within their relationship. But Michael's narration, coming from some place in the future armed with the knowledge of how it all ultimately ends, steadies us like a hand on our shoulder. When Kit is taken to the hospital early on in the film, for example, Michael's narration assuages our worry — we haven't reached the point at which the film began yet; this isn't the cancer part, yet, and hearing this is a relief.

The film curiously straddles many eras. As we watch Michael in the early aughts in NYC, we hear Michael's narration coming from somewhere in the future. We also see young Michael's pivotal childhood moments, remembered as though taking place on the vibrant stage of a sitcom. This gimlet-eyed survey of Michael's life is what lends the film a sense of emotional intelligence and eventual kindness. 

We see that future Michael has done the hard work of reckoning and owning his good moments against his bad moments. He has grown from his failures — moments of anger, jealousy and frailty — and tells us his story from that place of calm and steadied surveillance, never showing to the grief that viewers may feel. Rather, Michael's narration lets the past run its course and unfurl in all its beauty and prickliness — all while reassuring us, by its presence, that everything will somehow be okay.

Spoiler Alert contains wrenchingly romantic and sweet moments. Early on in their relationship, Michael shows Kit a ritual he's held since childhood, of lying under the newly decorated Christmas tree and looking at all its sparkling lights and shine. Kit, in turn, introduces Michael to his parents, Marilyn (Sally Fields) and Bob (Bill Irwin), to whom he hasn't yet come out, and asks Michael to "de-gay" his apartment for him ahead of their visit. As the couple mature, we see them remain linked despite having grown apart by that intuitive knowledge of each other that only comes from the most honest and genuine kind of love. 

The performances here are all pitch perfect. Parsons delivers a stunningly intricate portrayal, in turns sweet and grating, hypocritical and naïve. Aldridge is smouldering as Kit — confused yet assured, knowing yet afraid. In one of the film's many heartbreaking scenes, we, glued to Michael, hear Aldridge's Kit weeping uncontrollably from the bathroom after he's received his terminal prognosis — a moment liable to leave audiences with goosebumps. And Fields as Marilyn is breathtaking, a warm and anxious mother keeping up a slippery front of strength.

This is a beautiful movie because it understands that, even with all the foreknowledge in the world, loss suffered within the kind of love that Michael and Kit share never gets easier. Spoiler Alert is a shrewd film for this reason: its understanding of the weight of loss, preserving Ausiello's voice in the story's adaptation to the screen.

Many have rightly proclaimed (and bemoaned) the death of the mid-budget rom-com. Spoiler Alert reminds us that such gems are still possible. This movie is a precious and shrewd reinvigoration of the genre that I hope inspires more films full of bright hope. Long live the rom-com.

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