“Let’s just take a moment to appreciate this beauty.”
The recent influx of gay-themed films this year has been a most welcomed site for a community whose diverse range of voices and perspectives had largely been pushed to the side in the past. June’s Jane Austen-influenced Fire Island looked at the class system that exists within the gay world to great success, while, September’s Bros looked at the complex nature of dating and relationships in that same world to disappointingly less success. The latest addition to this year’s new cinematic trend comes courtesy of writer/director Michael Showalter, who has made a film that mostly skirts the themes highlighted by the above-mentioned titles for a story that focuses on unshakable bonds and honest romance.
Spoiler Alert recounts the true story of Michael (Jim Parsons), a TV journalist who falls in love with the handsome Kit (Ben Aldridge). As the two experience the ups and downs of a modern relationship, they’re soon put to the test when Kit is diagnosed with cancer. Along with the support of Kit’s parents Marilyn (Sally Field) and Bob (Bill Irwin), the two prepare to take on their biggest challenge as a couple.
If Fire Island and Bros looked to explore the intricacies of the gay world, Spoiler Alert aims to simply recount how a true love story between two men. This is a film that’s less about gay culture than it is about the universality of love. Billed AS a love story, the romance here is explored in a way that most other onscreen partnerships seldom are. We get a genuine sense of who Michael and Kit are as a couple. We see what drew them together, what keeps them together, and as a result, when their world is pulled out from under them, we feel it. The script does spend a small amount of time showing how hard it is to find love in the gay world and questions of trust and self-esteem do play out against this specific backdrop. But Spoiler Alert is more interested in what happens when that love that was so hard to find is threatened by a force that renders both people powerless. It’s the result of that which ultimately drives the film as the fight becomes more intense, as does the pain and the love.
Showalter has always been a director who takes human stories and seeks to elevate them by highlighting their humanity even further. Previous efforts like The Big Sick and Hello, My Name is Doris show he can pull this off through the use of carefully inserted laughs which give way to surprising character moments. The comedy in Spoiler Alert is no different. While not laugh out loud by any means, every bit of humor here works and gives some much-needed levity to what would otherwise be a straight-up somber affair. One technique, in particular, a series of imagined flashbacks in which key events of Michael’s childhood are played out as if they are episodes of a classic sitcom, is a curious touch that only grows more interesting until its careful insertion into a key present-day scene. So many devices could have easily resulted in a scattered film, but Showalter balances it all with a gentleness and a quiet, steady hand that lets this beautiful story play out the way it was meant to.
Parsons has never been better. The actor makes his way through all of the movie’s lighter moments with the ease of a comic pro to no one’s surprise. But it’s in the moments of anguish, sadness, and above all, tenderness, that the actor turns in what is easily his finest screen performance to date. He and Aldridge make for a great pairing with the two sharing a chemistry that feels so utterly natural and charming, it makes the journey they take us on all the more worthwhile. Irwin is solid if a little underused in his role as supporting dad, while Field is so incredibly touching in all of her scenes. The actress knows her way around a grieving mother role, but rather than resort to histrionics, the two-time Oscar winner opts for a subtle realism that’s almost unlike anything she’s done before.
There are so many misconceptions about the gay world, with the biggest one being how much resolve it takes to exist within it. Over the years, popular culture has helped to craft this image of the gay world being nothing but fabulousness and “hello darlings”. Make no mistake, the gay world is as tough as it can be. It’s a place where openness, vulnerability, and loyalty can be hard to find. To be able to navigate that world without getting eaten alive by it is tricky enough, but finding an actual romance with someone who is all of the above and wants to share their life with you is downright rare. It’s because of this that Spoiler Alert feels both more authentic and devastating. Michael and Kit’s story is indeed one for the ages; it’s a true-life fantasy rich with the inspiring beauty so many like them long to experience.