'Spoiler Alert' Review
December 2, 2022
While it usually goes without saying, I feel I’m obliged to mention that this review is spoiler-free. I guess it doesn’t really matter since this film adaptation of the novel Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies kind of spells everything out within its title. The meta-ness of that title brings up a philosophical question: If a movie is incredibly predictable, but the creatives recognize and address it, is it then still predictable?
For many years, the answer to that question would likely be a “no.” But with the overall rise in meta humor in nearly every genre (comic-book: Deadpool; comedy: This Is The End; horror: The Cabin in the Woods), the pendulum has swung back the other way, making the unpredictable totally predictable. Spoiler Alert sits somewhere in the middle of this problem, as it presents a highly personal true story in such a conventional way that - even for all its positives - makes for an incredibly forgettable watch.
It’s also a little surprising that this film is not a dime-a-dozen release by a streaming service as television plays such a large part in the life of its main character, Michael Ausiello, who currently serves as the editor-in-chief of his website, TVLine. Instead, it finds its way into theaters through Focus Features, where it will likely fall in line with the rest of the adult-skewing victims of this new box office landscape.
Michael, played here by The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons in another attempt at meta-humor, has always used television as a safe space for his emotional traumas. Every day as a child, he and his mother would settle on the couch and catch up on soap operas. It eventually became the way he realized he was gay and offered escapism while his mother fought, and lost to, cancer.
So, when Michael’s long-time partner Kit (I’m skipping a lot of plot here, but there’s only so much margin space, and the story of them meeting is very by-the-numbers) is diagnosed with the deadly illness, the heartaches of the past meet the reality of the present.
To further emphasize the importance of television in Michael’s life even more, director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) stages several fake 80s sitcom moments, complete with overacting and canned laughter. These moments sort of serve as flashbacks to Michael’s past, with the bad memories portrayed through the rose-colored glasses of network television. It’s a jarring concept, one that never meshes well with the dramatic material that comes with a cancer drama. The same can be said for Michael’s narration, which is addressed to Kit in the afterlife and often butts in at the worst possible moments.
Parsons is a weird movie star, mostly because he has a sort of “supporting actor that steals the show” energy, which was fully evidenced over the twelve seasons of The Big Bang Theory. He can’t totally shake that persona, with some moments of sincerity coming across as stilted. He and Ben Aldridge as Kit do make a nice pair, with Sally Field as Kit’s mother being a welcome addition in the couple times she pops up.
Calling Spoiler Alert the more dramatic (and slightly inferior) version of Billy Eichner’s Bros is a little reductive, but it isn’t untrue. On both the comedic and dramatic fronts, everything within Showalter’s film has an aura of “been there, done that,” keeping it out of my memory bank for more than an hour after finishing it. I remember a lot of worse films than Spoiler Alert, but I also remember a lot of better ones too.