film review | “Spoiler alert” – Times Standard

For director Michael Showalter, it turns out “The Big Sick” wasn’t “The BIG Sick.”

After directing this superb 2017 romantic comedy-drama – starring Kumail Nanjiani and based on Nanjiani’s experiences with the woman who would later become his wife, Emily V. Gordon, who fell ill, when the two first started dating – Showalter now brings us a tale of love and cancer, spoiler alert.

The film, which is already available in some markets, is based on Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, television journalist Michael Ausiello’s memoir about the man he loved and lost, Kit Cowan.

With a deft touch, Showalter brings life and laughter to an ultimately heartbreaking story. And while we do fret over punches pulled here and there, we understand the apparent desire of a man with a background in sketch comedy — Showalter first came to light as a cast member on MTV’s The State — not to smear himself in the ugliest aspects wallow in a cancer battle.

Cowan died of colon cancer in 2015 and the film opens with Michael (Jim Parsons) lying next to Kit (Ben Aldridge) in his hospital bed. So, as the title of Ausiello’s book suggests, we know how this story will reach its climax.

We’ll soon travel back in time to Michael, who works at TV Guide, and who suggests a contribution to Gilmore Girls, but gets a contribution to Fear Factor instead. Dedicated to his job, he is urged by a colleague to give it up for a while and go to a club with him.

Michael, uncomfortable in a New York Yankees blazer and cap, exchanges a smile with handsome stranger Kit. And while he was actually looking past him to his friend at the bar, the two start chatting. Finally there is dancing, followed by kissing.

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Then there’s a great first date, after which Micheal obviously doesn’t want to bring Kit back to his place, for a reason that will become known soon enough. (The trailer gives it away, but we won’t. It’s pretty fun.)

Despite some obvious differences – for starters, Michael is obsessed with television while photographer Kit doesn’t even own one – and personal issues (body vs. bonding) they become a couple.

If Michael cares about anything as much as television, it’s Christmas, and Showalter is quick to chart the passage of time through an annual Christmas portrait of the couple, landing us in a more complicated gift.

The problems they face as a couple are dwarfed by what causes Kit great physical pain. Visits to a couple of optimistic oncologists are followed by one to a woman Michael thinks looks straight out of central casting, but this doctor has a much bleaker perspective on Kit. Unfortunately, your prognosis is correct.

Thanks in part to performances by Parsons — best known for portraying Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, but whose credits also include solid Netflix projects The Boys in the Band and Hollywood — he delivers a nuanced Performance as Michael who is confident professionally but lives in fear of losing his better looking partner to another man. And in the hands of Aldridge (“Pennyworth”), Kit is instantly and consistently likeable – though perhaps he shouldn’t be. They share a nice chemistry in good times for their characters and in darker moments, like a post-diagnosis lunch when they take snaps of each other’s faces.

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“Spoiler Alert” also benefits from nice side work from the veteran actors who portray Kit’s supportive parents, Marilyn and Bob (Sally Field and Bill Irwin).

Kit (Ben Aldridge, left) and Michael (Jim Parsons) have dinner with Kit’s parents, Marilyn (Sally Field) and Bob (Bill Irwin), in a scene from “Spoiler Alert.” (Photo by Linda Källérus/Courtesy of Focus Features)

In one memorable scene, Kit finally comes home to his parents after a medical incident prior to his cancer. The elderly couple becomes increasingly curious as to why this friend of Kit’s is in the hospital and knows where the linens are kept in his apartment.

For that reason, it’s disappointing when Showalter interrupts dinner, in which Kit, flanked by Michael, is telling his people about his diagnosis, the camera swaps a seat around the dining table for one outside a window, and peers into a conversation we don’t can have more hear. The intimate nature of “Spoiler Alert” is one of its greatest strengths, but we’re spared – or robbed – of this important, if tough, moment.

Also, cutaways to a young Michael imagining his life as a TV show and a late-game metascene don’t add much to the action, but they don’t really take away from it either.

All in all, it’s difficult to question the screenplay by Dan Savage — best known for the syndicated Savage Love column — and David Marshall Grant, or many of Showalter’s decisions. Small details like rarely letting Kit sit up past a certain point in the film without drawing attention to himself make a big difference.

This is a nice throwback from the director after last year’s uneven “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” which comes largely thanks to Jessica Chastain’s Oscar-winning performance as TV evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. (He also directed the grossly underrated 2020 rom-com The Lovebirds, which reunited him with Nanjiani.)

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As with Spoiler Alert, he’s not perfect, but we’ll take any film he directs, sick or healthy.

“Spoiler Alert” is rated: PG-13 for sexual content, drug use, and thematic elements. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.

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