I confess that, as a film critic, I go into movies cold these days. Trailers tend to give too much away. Social media is ablaze with factoids about new projects; I don’t want to know what a movie will say before I see it. In short, I avoid spoilers. Going into Michael Showalter’s “Spoiler Alert,” I knew nothing about the film.
Now that you’re reading about my reaction to the film, probably in advance of seeing the movie, trying to decide if I’m more relevant than the Rotten Tomatoes score, currently at 72%, I’m a part of the spoiler party. Alert, though: I will not spoil the movie for you. You’ll have to decide if Michael Ausiello’s story is worth your time.
In fact, “Spoiler Alert” surprised me. Jim Parsons plays Michael Ausiello, a TV Guide editor at the time. His novel, “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies” is the basis for David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage’s screenplay. Ausiello is a homebody who knows his TV shows like the back of his hand. Early in the story, he tries pitching something his chief editor knows nothing about, and Ausiello misses by “this much.” What Ausiello doesn’t miss is Ben Aldridge’s, Kit Cowan.
Showalter sets up their first encounter similar to the encounter in “Bros” from earlier this year: a nerdy guy meets a hot, muscled guy (and his shadow, Nina (Nikki M. James)) in a dance club. Parsons plays meek exceptionally well. His shyness is cute, and Kit responds accordingly. Their romance is well played out, but Showalter’s direction is almost as awkward as Michael’s fetish for Smurfs.
When the film transitions from comedy to drama, it loses its steam, to the point that I left the screening upset – is “Spoiler Alert” a dramedy or a comedy draped in dramatics? It struggles to be both, realistically. Following a similar outline to “Bros,” “Spoiler Alert” tells the story of boy-meets-boy, the boys fall head-over-heels for one another, and in a Showalter trademark, tragedy strikes.
Parsons does not have the same affable qualities as Kumail Nanjiani did in the director’s feature debut, “The Big Sick.” He is meek, and the actor has an inherent quirkiness that works when he and Aldridge share the screen as a couple. When things go awry, his meekness turns into panic, and we can see that aspect through the acting – it takes you out of his performance here, something Showalter couldn’t overcome.
Aldridge, on the other hand, had an easier time. His presence on the screen is calming and soothing. It helps that he’s less modest and more confident about himself. The actors share this between themselves, even as Kit struggles physically. I will say this – these boys can argue and debate and then make up better than I’ve seen most be able to do, so Showalter does get intimacy right.
Kit is the lucky one – he has two guardian angels looking over him: Nina, a comedic delight when she’s hanging on Kit’s arm and scoping Michael out for Kit.
Sally Field as Kit’s mom, Marilyn, is Kit’s other guardian angel. Her overprotectiveness comes from being left in the dark about Kit’s life in New York City. This generates some laughs, but Field’s role is more on the dramatic side of this house of cards. She brings warmth and levity to the story; something Parsons latches onto.
The most vital moment in the film is a quick getaway to the beach. It retains intimacy in the face of tragedy, but Showalter showcases each of the actors in a way that elevates the story. It makes us forget, even if for a moment, that human life is exceptionally short and that drama and comedy can co-exist. This is the moment in the story where it doesn’t try so hard.
And then we return to our regular programming, already in progress.
“Spoiler Alert” works best when it isn’t trying so hard. It struggles with fundamental storytelling, which isn’t to say Michael Ausiello’s story isn’t worth telling. It just needed to be told differently.
Directed by Michael Showalter
Screenplay by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage, based on “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies” by Michael Ausiello
Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field
PG-13, 112 minutes, Focus Features