“Spoiler Alert” is one of the best love stories of the year, even with (and perhaps, because of) all of the heartache.
Based on the critically acclaimed 2017 memoir “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies,” the new romantic drama from Focus Features chronicles the relationship between television journalist and TVLine founder Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) and his photographer husband Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge) — the great love of his life. The film begins with the pair’s courtship, from a meet-cute at a New York City bar to a coming out to Kit’s parents. What follows is the life of a relationship: a decade of corny Christmas cards, ups and downs, and major milestones like moving in (and moving out).
With a title like “Spoiler Alert,” the ending is no secret. The viewer sees the lovers’ final days together before Kit’s life is tragically cut short by terminal cancer. Spoiler alert: there are a lot of tears in store. But ultimately, the film is a timeless, gripping, emotional love story that connects with LGBTQ+ and straight moviegoers alike. Despite being born from a real-life tragedy, the film is a masterclass in showing viewers what real queer love can look like — messy, complex, and beautiful.
“I’ve had the privilege of playing several different gay characters that I thought were very full in a very deep and involved context in the stories, but this was unique in the way of getting to play those highs and lows,” says Parsons, the Emmy-winning gay actor who rose to fame playing Sheldon Cooper on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.” In addition to portraying one of the film’s leads, Parsons is also a producer of “Spoiler Alert,” along with his company, That’s Wonderful Productions.
Alongside Aldridge (“Fleabag,” “Pennyworth”), the two brought Michael and Kit’s complex love to life on screen in an authentic way that will have viewers laughing at one moment and then reaching for tissues the next. In one of the more tender moments from the film, for example, Michael and Kit are taking what could very well be the last vacation they could ever have together. One day on the patio of a beachside cottage, Kit starts blowing bubbles into the wind while trying to take photographs with his camera. Michael decides to capture video of the moment on his phone. At this point, he, and in turn, the audience, come to the realization that the end for Kit is near: a relationship, and a life, as lovely and ephemeral as a bubble.
This heartbreaking complexity was what drew Parsons to the story.
“This relationship was the most authentic, for me, representation of who I am, and the people I know and love,” Parsons says. “I’ve just never experienced anything like it. It was a fullness and a richness to their relationship that I had not gotten to portray on stage or on camera before. And good Lord, was it rewarding.”
“One of the things I’m proudest of in the film is that it’s about love,” says Aldridge, who plays the confident, jock-y, handsome Kit to Parson’s shy, smart, nerdy Michael. “It’s about a relationship and them being gay is integral to that. But also, what it is to be in a relationship over a long period of time, and the fact that isn’t necessarily easy and they weather various storms and about how life and time changes them.”
For Aldridge, the opportunity to be in a gay project not centered on tired tropes about coming out, overcoming homophobia, or surviving a plague was central to its appeal. “I think it’s nice for us to be able to watch stories about ourselves that are beyond the normal trappings,” Aldridge says. “Where we are not suffering at the hands of our sexuality or because of our sexuality. We’re just real.”
A major part of “Spoiler Alert”’s realness comes from the way in which it was crafted — and by those who crafted it. While the source material comes from Ausiello, an out entertainment journalist who was willing to be vulnerable and share his story and his love for his husband with the world, the script was penned by gay writers David Marshall Grant, a Tony-nominated actor of “Angels in America” who went on to write for “Brothers & Sisters” and Smash, and Dan Savage, of “It Gets Better” and “Savage Love” sex columnist fame.
Moreover, Parsons is producing; he first came across the memoir after moderating a Q&A with Ausiello at a Los Angeles area Barnes & Noble around the time the book was first released in 2017. And ally Michael Showalter is at the helm — the director is known for other, critically-acclaimed films based on real-life stories like “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “The Big Sick.” With this résumé, Parsons knew he was the perfect choice to direct.
“I actually said this to Ben one day on the set. We were talking at some point during shooting and towards the end, I was like, Michael is the perfect balance of heartfelt and taking it seriously,” Parsons says. “He also brings a style that is not indulgent; it just takes it for what it is and it gets at its essence. It’s kind of like what you have to do in real life. I think that’s why (Showalter) is such a good match for this kind of material, because that’s very lifelike to go, Well it’s all happening and it sucks or whatever, but let’s keep going.”
And of course, a major gay production needs a top-tier gay icon. And “Spoiler Alert” boasts none other than two-time Oscar winner Sally Field, who plays Kit’s mother Marilyn.
“It was definitely very kind of pinch-myself moment,” Aldridge confesses of getting to work with a beloved actress whose work includes “Norma Rae,” “Places in the Heart” (the two films she won Best Actress for at the Academy Awards), “Steel Magnolias,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Forrest Gump” (just to name a few). Herself a mother to a gay son in real life, Field portrays Kit’s loving, caring mother Marilyn. And one of the first scenes Parsons and Aldridge filmed with her was where she meets Michael for the first time at the hospital under the guise of him being “a friend.”
“Me and Jim had been on set for two weeks really doing scenes that were just the two of us and we were in this kind of bubble, but then we were suddenly doing this appendicitis scene with her, which was the first scene where she meets Michael,” Aldridge recalls. “Definitely in going into that day, I felt nerves and excitement and also a level of intimidation. I was kind of (preparing) myself to be like, I’m going to be looking into Sally Field’s eyes. She’s going to be acting back with me. Me and Jim both were saying that we just want her to think that we are good and worthy.”
‘This is a real story’
With this sterling team assembled, there was more than enough care to give heart and truth to Michael and Kit’s story without veering into melodrama. And the film, bravely, is not afraid to be sad. Although some viewers — particularly LGBTQ+ folks — may yearn for Hollywood happy endings, this is not the reality of the world today. After all, the film is rooted in real life, and it’s a raw reflection that is sorely needed on the big screen today, says Aldridge.
“This is a real story. This is true. I think that’s what we most want as a community: to see ourselves truthfully represented, and not skewed one way or the other,” Aldridge says. “The fact that there have been so many tragic stories told…that’s because there has been a lot of tragedy in our community. I think those stories really hold a vital place being on screen, and in books, and on stage. It’s where we’ve learned most about ourselves.”
“Certainly, my generation needs to learn about that history, and that’s where it’s there, exemplified. But at the same time as that, we want representation in its entirety that is also about joy, and about love, and about relationships,” Aldridge adds. “And what (“Spoiler Alert”) does is look at the complexity of a relationship, not just the rose-tinted version of that.”
“I felt really passionately, and I’m really proud to be a part of a film that shows what it is to be in a long relationship, and the things that you negotiate,” he continues. “How time changes that, how life changes that, how growing at different rates changes that, how being attracted to people outside of the relationship, and then ultimately, tragedy. We’re not immune, as gay people, to tragedy outside of the usual tropes. We are human, and I think it’s really important to show that.”
“While there is so much that is sad that happens in (“Spoiler Alert”), one of the big headlines from me reading it, playing the part, and now having seen the finished product is how many great things happened in Ausiello’s life because of risking, going through heartbreak, and having his heart broken,” Parsons told Out earlier this year when the trailer for the film was first released.
“I’ve experienced death in my own life, and I think that a lot of people who have gone through things like that understand that it’s not that you don’t carry grief with you. It’s not that you still can’t cry and mourn over situations. But I think a lot of people feel, going through something that opens up life and your heart in a way that, without putting yourself on the line to risk, that type of thing, you don’t get. And in that way, I would say it’s a happy ending as far as someone who’s really doing the best they can to live their life to the fullest and not letting the fear of being hurt stop them from diving in, as it were.”
More queer storytelling
Parsons and Aldridge are hopeful that a film like “Spoiler Alert” — especially since it came out during a year with other milestone gay-themed romantic projects from major studios like “Bros” and “Fire Island” — will help move the needle when it comes to the future of queer storytelling. There are still many more stories they want to create and see.
“Good storytelling overrides so many people’s bias about so many things, not just queer stories, but God knows what in life,” Parsons says, noting that LGBTQ+ creators need to be given a space at the table to tell a whole multitude of nuanced, genuine, and original programming. “If you ask for just a few queer stories a year, well then it feels like they either all have to be golden or they’re probably all not going to work. It is hard to understand. How do you deal with that?”
“But I think that is happening and I think that continued good storytelling will just ensure that there are more. So I do feel hopeful.”
“I feel hopeful as well,” Aldridge adds, expressing that he’d like to see more projects where LGBTQ+ characters don’t have to keep explaining the basics of their identity and their culture to straight audiences in order to be more palatable, noting that “a sophisticated story doesn’t have to over-explain itself.”
“Maybe it’s too idealistic of me, but I feel like we don’t need to do that,” Aldridge says. “I feel like if the filming is elevated enough and the storytelling is on point, that we can just exist in a way that we don’t need to explain ourselves to ourselves or to other people. When a film starts with, ‘This is how it works being gay and this is this tribe and that’s that tribe.’ I just feel like we don’t need to be as concerned with being understood in that way and having mass appeal in that way. I’d like to see that fall away a little bit.”
As far as what specifically Aldridge wants to see more of in the future of queer cinema? Well, that answer is simple and harken back to his early career and upbringing in the world of theater.
“More and more and more things, and all things,” he says. “I’d also love a really classy gay ass musical that wasn’t tacky, but it was just like, Shit that’s a gay love story. Gay love, singing… Gay Singing in the Rain. I’d be so down for that. Gay in the Rain!”
This article originally appeared on Out.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Pride Media.