Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2022 12:05 am 
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BEN ALDREDGE, JIM PARSONS, SALLY FIELD, AND BILL IRWIN IN SPOILER ALERT

The value of ordinariness

Spoiler Alert is a sad, touching film about an ordinary gay couple whose love ends tragically when one of them gets cancer in his thirties and dies. Critics have been brutal, saying this is flat and uninteresting. But they miss the tremendous appeal for any minority of simply seeing your life up on the screen. It's the very ordinariness, when it has the specificity of this memoir, that is appealing, and the fact that it's honest and complete, a picture of gay men experiencing what everybody else does. People will enjoy watching this simply because it's a weepie and takes place in Manhattan. Michael Showalter, who helmed, directed The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which I couldn't stand. But here the material is much more palatable.

Not all was perfect for me. Jim Parsons, who plays Michael Ausiello, the writer whose book, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, has been adapted, is 49, and Ben Aldridge, the Bradley-Cooper-esque British actor who plays Kit, the more macho and hunkier guy who falls for him and vice versa, is 37, and the age difference shows and isn't explained. (Both actors are gay.) There are also one or two jumps when if feels like the screen adaptation has left out a necessary link in the story as recounted by Michael. But the first meeting and the first few dates are shown in remarkable, intimate detail, the way Michael, who was a FFK, a Former Fat Kid, still has serious body issues, while Kit seems to have the confidence of a male stripper; Mike's Smurf obsession, which makes him ashamed to show Kit his apartment - then the fact that Kit is more concerned at this point that he has been involved with someone at work, and that he feels guilty, and this shows how much Michael matters to him.

Mike is working for TV Guide when they meet and later writes for TV, and to accept this movie you need to put up with excerpts from an imaginary sit com depicting snapshots of Mike's days as a fat kid. They may feel very extraneous. It's an interesting concept. Does it work? Not quite.

One of the film's finest moments is Kit's forced coming out. This comes when we've jumped to Kit and Mike going steady, to there being a "Michael" space in Kit's closet, all a first at least for Kit, when Kit has an emergency appendicitis operation and the parents come from Connecticut. Kit is not out to them. Here, in his apartment, when the parents visit, is Michael, who knows where the sheets are kept. Who is this guy? What's going on? Bob and Marilyn, Kit's dad and mom, are played by Bill Irwin and Sally Field, and they're so good, they successfully skirt the slippery edge between too-good-to-be-true and absurd. Kit comes out with it: this guy is his boyfriend. He's gay. The response is: Why didn't you tell us, all this time? They're disappointed that he felt he couldn't come out to them, but it's a great relief to know who he is now. Irwin and Field handle this and their subsequent scenes, when they become parents to Mike as well as Kit, with great skill.

Sally Field in particular does more of the wonderful work of being terribly specific, very loving but a little bit absurd, a woman who doesn't quite take in Kit's cancer diagnosis at first and the next morning, apparently at least, has been up all night thinking not about that, but that a woman tried to cheat in a triathlon she just competed in. Marilyn and Bob are precious, in a good way.

Suddenly, after the appendicitis revelation, Kit and Mike have been living together for thirteen years and the relationship has gone badly stale. They still love each other so they see a couples therapist, who, hearing dramatic - and again, specific - accounts of all the hostility and tension between the two man, advises them to live apart for a while - only to learn that they are doing so.

Then comes the cancer, and it's brutal, but only as life too often is. Some reviewers have found this section unbearably long. But here too it feels like the movie has been both economical and specific, touching all the bases, the moments when the two men, who've gotten a quick city hall marriage, and experience a blissful final interlude when Kit seems in remission, and they go on a trip to the ocean with Marilyn and Bob in adjacent cabins right on the beach at Ocean City, New Jersey, now have those last conversations, and the time when Mike and Kit's parents must speak to Kit in his hospital bed and he cannot reply.

Again, this is ordinary, yes. But we still need to see it. Perhaps Spoiler Alert is mediocre. But it's mediocre in a strangely life-enhancing way, because one can learn from it. Its emotional intelligence and honesty are heartwarming and instructive and, at its best moments, beautiful.

Spoiler Alert, 112 mins., opened without prior introduction Dec. 2, 2022 in US theaters. Screened for this review at Landmark Albany Twin Dec. 13. Metacritic rating: 60%.

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JIM PARSONS AND BEN ALDREDGE IN SPOILER ALERT

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