Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies but Love Lasts Forever
I read Michael Ausiello’s 2017 memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies during the height of the COVID pandemic. It revolves around the well-known television journalist’s 13-year relationship and marriage to photographer Kit Cowan who — as the title clearly states — does not make it to the end alive. Cowan tragically died from a rare form of neuroendocrine cancer in 2015, and Ausiello’s intimate chronicle of their time together is equal parts inspiring, heartbreaking, and uplifting.
Needless to say, as big a fan as I am of two of director Michael Showalter’s previous comedy-drama hybrids, The Big Sick and Hello, My Name Is Doris, I can’t say I was enthused when news broke that he was going to tackle adapting Ausiello’s memoir. Especially after the uneven — if spectacularly acted — The Eyes of Tammy Faye, I was understandably cautious.
Thanks to the best performance of producer and star Jim Parsons’ career as Ausiello, Ben Aldridge’s star-making turn as Cowan, and Sally Field’s effortlessly charming work as the latter’s loving mother Marilyn, it turns out I shouldn’t have been worried. Spoiler Alert is a delightfully effective melodrama, one that pulls few punches and isn’t afraid of wearing a plethora of emotions out in the open for all to see. Little that transpires ever feels forced or false, the complex authenticity of Ausiello and Cowan’s relationship shining through every step of the way.
After giving audiences notice as to where things are going to end up, the story begins with Ausiello and Cowan’s “meet-cute” at a party and then proceeds along a somewhat familiar rom-com path. There’s a great bit where the television journalist finally allows his new boyfriend to see his apartment, only for him to discover the mother of all Smurf collections. There’s another where Cowan is unexpectedly forced to out himself to his parents Marilyn and Bob (a curmudgeonly endearing Bill Irwin) that miraculously avoids cliché and ends up being surprisingly effective.
But as good as all these elements may be, it isn’t until Cowan receives his cancer diagnosis that Showalter’s latest hits its stride. Parsons and Aldridge showcase heartrending chemistry, and their undying affection for one another, even with their many differences, is never in doubt. The eloquence of the final act is sublime, and I love that Showalter and screenwriters David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage never shy away from the messier, even downright ugly, aspects of Ausiello and Cowan’s romance.
Other than Field and Irwin, the supporting players have precious little to do, and that does somewhat lessen the overall impact. There’s also a cringy Christmas dinner at the Ausiello/Cowan household with the duo’s closest friends that feels as if it came right out of a 1990s sitcom — and not one of the good ones. While it’s a necessary moment from a narrative standpoint, dramatically what is revealed falls hopelessly flat.
These are minor complaints, however, and there are so many delicately sublime moments throughout the second half that most of my misgivings all but vanish by the time this story reaches its foregone conclusion. While not quite as phenomenal as Ausiello’s source material — how could it be? — Showalter’s adaptation is nonetheless marvelous. The hero may die, but love still lasts forever, and that makes Spoiler Alert a timeless romantic melodrama worth swooning over.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)