5. A film based on a true story: Spoiler Alert (2022)
List Progress: 1/12
Terminal illness stories are a genre unto themselves, one that tends to be fairly polarizing among audiences. What some will find saccharine, others will find deeply touching. What some will find repetitive, others will find universal. Spoiler Alert, the 2022 film adaptation of Michael Ausiello’s 2017 memoir, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, will not change anyone’s mind about terminal illness stories, but it does add nuance and heart and a personal touch that can be missing in these stories. For anyone in the mood for a good cathartic cry, Spoiler Alert will do it.
Spoiler Alert tells the story of television journalist Michael Ausiello’s fourteen year relationship with his partner Kit Cowan, before Cowan died of neuroendocrine cancer in 2015. Ausiello (played here by Jim Parsons) lost both parents at a young age, and contextualizes events in his life through the lens of the tv shows he used to watch with his mother. Looking back at his childhood, he imagines a laugh track as they exist on the set of a sitcom, and he reflects how much easier losing Kit would be if they existed in the sweeping drama of a soap opera, not in the messy realities of life. This theme isn’t pushed quite far enough, as those two examples are the only ones, with some subplots never touching on it, but it does add some good structure to the film, with Ausiello as a narrator commenting on his relationship with television.
The part of the film that feels like it breaks the most expectations of the genre is in Ausiello and Cowan’s relationship status. While the audience sees their meeting and the blossoming of their romance, the movie then skips forward thirteen years. They have built up resentment and anger over the years, and by the time Cowan is diagnosed, they are taking a therapist-recommended break and living apart. Neither of them are angels, and their problems do not go away when Cowan gets sick, though they do become much smaller in the face of the disaster. It feels so much more real than a lot of these stories, where the ill loved one seems too pure for this sinful earth.
The inclusion of Cowan’s parents doesn’t work quite as well; while they were probably important figures in both Ausiello and Cowan’s lives, they do not offer much dramatic potential for how much screen time they have. After an early coming-out scene, they do not have many real conflicts with either of the men, and it’s unclear if the Cowans ever know that their son and his partner are partially-separated when the health crisis strikes. Combined with Sally Fields chewing a lot of the scenery as Kit’s mother, and their scenes don’t resonate as much as the central couple does.
Spoiler Alert is a well-crafted tearjerker, with just enough unique nuances to make it stand out among its tearjerking peers. The film does not pretend to be anything other than a cancer story, down to the title giving away the inevitable ending, but for those interested in engaging, it achieves its goals well and wrenches all the right guts.
Would I Recommend It: A tear-stained “yes”.