His best movie, in 2017 The Big SickDirector Michael Showalter balances interracial rom-com conventions with an affecting dash of hospital drama to deliver a love story distinguished by humor, culturally specific insights and tender depths of emotion. Spoiler alert is in many ways a queer companion piece, this time exploring another relationship drawn from real life between gay men. The main difference, as the title and opening scene suggest, is the outcome of the illness, pushing the new film into traditional weepy territory, a move acknowledged with a wink. The rules of love.
Despite coming straight from entertainment journalist Michael Aussillo’s memoir about his 13 years with photographer Kit Cowan, there are elements of preciousness and quirks. I mean, how many gay men are stuck with a collection of Smurf merchandise that takes over an entire Jersey City apartment after an early date? Clearly, one did, which lends a disarming honesty to their story, making you warm to the couple and share in their moments of heartbreak and comfort.
The bottom line
A great patient.
Box office pundits had several opinions about the commercial failure of the Billy Eichner vehicle Brothers A couple of months ago, the general consensus was that the gay rom-com was under-performing, even in its key demographic. Spoiler alert It potentially has appeal beyond that niche, especially for audiences hungry for a genuinely moving, pleasantly old-fashioned four-hanky tearjerker whose emotions are backed by lived experience. It doesn’t hurt that the December focus features a stealth Christmas movie release.
The full title of Ausiello’s book is unmistakable — Spoiler alert: Hero dice — and the script by actor-turned-writer David Marshall Grant and author and LGBTQ activist Dan Savage suggests to the audience from the start that this is a sad drama.
One of its key themes is its refusal to sand the edges of a relationship to view it as a perfect romantic union. It is a vivid love story about the ebb and flow of passion, the ebb and flow of sexual desire, infatuation curdling into annoyance, infidelity and the death knell of trial separation. That makes it all the more emotional that it takes a terminal illness to renew and strengthen mutual commitment.
In a slightly alarming opening, TV Guide Feature writer Michael (Parsons) gives a quick overview of his imagined life as an ’80s sitcom. Osciellos, the studio offers clunky inserts with laugh tracks that, despite Showalter’s grounding in TV comedy, require a strong command of style to work. Thankfully, Michael never planned his story to go from sitcom to hospital soap, explaining, “Okay, I’ll shut up now,” before interrupting his voiceover.
The film immediately gets more engaging when a co-worker drags her out for a night jock at a queer bar and locks eyes with Kit (Ben Aldridge). Too, falls for gay guys – encourages Michael by informing him that Kit’s type is dweeb. It was lucky because Michael failed to get Knight Rider Just for reference, the kit is unlikely for a vegan teetotaler. Even before that Smurf obsession was revealed, it traced its roots to Michael losing his mother to cancer at a young age.
The two of them connect against the odds, and although beautiful Kit is breezy about her sexuality and Michael has body issues from a self-described “FFK” (former fat kid), the couple sticks. Grant and Savage’s screenplay is so perceptive about the unpredictable nature of romantic chemistry that any sugar is tempered by the knowledge that they’re depicting a real-life relationship.
Uptight seems to have the most to gain from Michael’s union, but it’s a two-way exchange. Kit has never been in a long-term relationship, always believing that quick hookups are enough, and he’s never found the right moment to come out to his parents, Marilyn (Sally Field) and Bob (Bill Irwin). A stable with Michael gives him courage when people visit New York, which unfolds with awkward amusement under the watchful eye of Kit’s monosyllabic roommate Kirby (Sadie Scott).
Audiences accustomed to more fireworks may grumble that Marilyn and Bob’s quick acceptance means the script sets up conflict. But Field (who starred in Showalter Hello, my name is Doris) and Irwin is so charming in the characters that it makes sense when he turns it around and suggests that Kit doesn’t trust him enough to share such a fundamental part of his identity so soon.
Michael and Kit’s progress in life is mapped with a touch of light that captures it, punctuated by annual photographs of them by the Christmas tree, that holiday season which is another of Michael’s obsessions. The action jumps from their first shared apartment through their attempt to salvage their deteriorating relationship with the couple’s therapy. Michael has gone from zero booze to a bottle or more of wine for the night, while Kit spends more time in the office of the commercial photography firm where he works and suspiciously flirts with new colleague Sebastian (Queer Eye food guy Antony Porowski).
The tone changes smoothly after Kit discovers a growth that is diagnosed as a rare neuroendocrine tumor. Although they live apart by then, Michael steps in to book appointments with New York’s best oncologists, leading to false promises, withdrawals, and finally facing a harsh reality together.
There’s never any doubt about where the play is going, and the steps it takes to get there are often familiar. Yet at this point we are invested enough to care deeply about the couple. If anything, the intrusion of death makes the relationship more believable for both Parsons and Aldridge (of Epics). Pennyworth) fill his scenes with warmth and heart, regret and exquisite sadness. A visit to Kit’s parents in Ohio to break the terrible news to Kit’s parents will tear up all but the most die-hard viewers, as well as a lovely interlude where they spend a weekend together in Ocean City, New Jersey, after Kit’s radiation treatment. Bought him a while back.
Showalter and the writers don’t hold back the emotion, and it could be argued that the cut to a TV fantasy version of Michael’s life, just as his pain reaches its peak, clouds the pathos. But this is a well-acted film with a more authentic feel than verbosity; It provides a welcome reminder that nothing is as emotionally cathartic as a good cry. Home-video footage of the real Michael and Kit in the end credits adds weight to the lingering poignancy.