Spoiler Alert works better as a romantic drama than as a romantic comedy. That makes sense since the plot revolves around cancer, although we’ve seen other films about the disease balance both tones. Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl remain the gold standards. Given Jim Parsons’ comedy background, it’s a little disappointing that Spoiler Alert isn’t funnier. Granted, nobody goes into a film about cancer expecting to laugh, but Spoiler Alert wants the audience to giggle in parts. You might not always laugh, but the genuine performances from Parsons and Ben Aldridge will make you cry.
Parsons gives his best dramatic performance to date as Michael Ausiello, whose 2017 memoir provided the basis for this film. Diehard Gilmore Girls fans might recognize Ausiello as a side character in a couple of episodes. In addition to the Gilmores, Michael writes about Felicity, Fear Factor, and other turn-of-the-century hits as a TV Guide writer. Television is Michael’s one true love until he meets Aldridge’s Kit. Although neither has been in many committed relationships, there’s an undeniable spark between the two. Michael knows that Kit is a keeper when his extensive Smurf collection doesn’t send him running for the hills.
For its first half, Spoiler Alert is essentially a Christmas rom-com. We get all the scenes you’d expect, including Kit coming out to his parents, wonderfully played by Marilyn Cowan and Sally Field. A more conventional film like Happiest Season would’ve ended with Kit coming out of the closet. Instead, Spoiler Alert jumps ahead several years as Michael and Kit grow distant from each other. Then one day, Kit gets cancer. That’s not a spoiler. Well, maybe it is, but the film tells us upfront that Kit’s dire fate is inevitable. The memoir title is even more blatant, telling us on the cover that “The Hero Dies.”
Spoiler Alert is most effective when it dives head-first into the harsh reality of cancer. Before our hero even dies, we see Michael and Kit gradually endure the five stages of grief. While the film’s second half is beautifully acted and heartbreaking, the first act’s comedic angle is almost entirely dropped. To an extent, this sharp turn emphasizes the randomness of cancer and how it can change someone’s life on the spot. For a film that opens with a comedic edge, though, the two halves feel tonally inconsistent. A recurring bit where Michael envisions his childhood as a multi-cam sitcom seems especially out of place with the more grounded moments, never quite paying off.
Director Michael Showalter previously made The Big Sick, which did a better job of juggling comedy, drama, romance, and illness. Even if Spoiler Alert doesn’t strike every target it aims for, the film has more hits than misses. The depiction of cancer doesn’t pull any punches, but it’s balanced with life-affirming moments. The romantic chemistry between the leads is sincere and believable. Between Bros, Fire Island, and this film, 2022 has been a tentpole year for LGBTQ+ couples in cinema. The comedy and Michael’s passion for TV could’ve been better integrated into the story. Like the seventh season of Gilmore Girls, though, the highs outweigh the lows.