When David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage adapted “Spoiler Alert” from Michael Ausiello’s memoir, the resulting movie kept its title but somehow lost the book’s very revealing subtitle. This is dirty pool, as it ties my hands as to how much I can say in this review. Plus, it makes the film sound like a horror movie, not a bittersweet romantic dramedy about the relationship between TV Guide columnist Michael (Jim Parsons) and Kit (Ben Aldridge).
Nobody puts Odie in a corner! So I’m going to tell you what that subtitle is. But first: It’s only fitting that a review for “Spoiler Alert” comes with a spoiler alert. Leave now if you don’t want to know what happens in this movie!
Are you still here? I like you — you’ve got moxie!
The full title of Ausiello’s book is “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words.” Truth be told, the movie lets viewers know it will end in Kit’s death in its opening scene, so the spoiler isn’t kept under wraps for long.
Just in time for the holidays, director Michael Showalter has gifted viewers with a good old-fashioned tearjerker, one that earns its tears without resorting to a brute force assault on your heartstrings. “Spoiler Alert” operates with a lot of humor and more than a little grace. If your heart is still tender from the loss of a loved one, you might want to steer clear. On the other hand, perhaps like me, you’ll find Michael and Kit’s journey cathartic.
Kit and Michael meet at a gay nightclub, chatting each other up while the DJ spins a hilariously stereotypical (and accurate) playlist. When the soundtrack blared Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” I laughed heartily at its appropriateness. “Spoiler Alert” maintains this level of familiarity throughout; some of its funniest moments are the result of getting all the little details just right.
At the club, Kit’s BFF, Nina (Nikki M. James), describes Michael as “a tall dweeb.” As luck would have it, Kit is a hunk whose type happens to be tall dweebs, even if they have an unhealthy obsession with the Smurfs. Unbeknownst to his new friends, Michael is a self-described “FFK,” or former fat kid, whose life was made a living hell at school because he was both heavyset and gay.
“Spoiler Alert” occasionally flashes back to Michael’s childhood memories; they take the form of an ′80s sitcom, complete with a laugh track. The conceit doesn’t really work, even if I could buy that a writer who covered TV would package his bad memories as an even worse TV show.
The film shows more comedic savvy in a later montage of therapy sessions where Kit and Michael air their grievances. This scene occurs when “Spoiler Alert” employs the requisite second-act conflict that temporarily separates the lovers, but knowing that “the hero dies” gives the familiar plot beat unexpected emotional heft: Unlike the characters, we know that they’re wasting precious time with this foolishness.
“Spoiler Alert” owes a debt to “Steel Magnolias,” “Love Story,” and even Showalter’s 2017 film, “The Big Sick.” It pays that debt by acknowledging its influences, particularly in a scene where Michael re-creates a hospital scene first performed by Shirley MacLaine in a certain best-picture winner from 1983.
Parsons and Aldridge have fantastic chemistry together. Aldridge has the harder role to play, not just as the character stricken with cancer but also as a man who has yet to come out to his parents. (They’re played, in fun performances, by Sally Field and Bill Irwin, so of course they’re accepting.) His broad, often sarcastic humor never fades, even when he is at his sickest.
As great as Aldridge and Field are, “Spoiler Alert” is Jim Parsons’s movie. The deadpan and snark that’s his stock-in-trade didn’t irritate me like it usually does, and the film gives him the opportunity to show his dramatic side. Who knew Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” could be completely believable and heartfelt as the romantic lead in a bittersweet love story? That’s the real spoiler alert.
Directed by Michael Showalter. Written by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage, based on the book “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words” by Michael Ausiello. Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field, Bill Irwin, Nikki M. James. 112 minutes. At AMC Boston Common 19, Landmark Kendall Square, and suburban theaters. PG-13 (drug use, a little sex, some “Terms of Endearment”)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.