Ben Aldridge Steals the Show in Shaky Dramedy

Jan 8, 2023

Home Movie Reviews ‘Spoiler Alert’ Review: Ben Aldridge Steals the Show in Michael Showalter’s Shaky Dramedy

Though all the pieces don’t come together cleanly, the moments of silly yet sentimental reflection see the cast elevate this romantic dramedy.

Image via Focus Features

If it wasn’t already clear from its title, Michael Showalter’s Spoiler Alert is a film that attempts to grapple with the stories that we tell ourselves to make meaning out of the many upheavals in our lives. In this case, it is one that begins when two people fall in love. Initially, it rather dutifully follows the basic formula of a meet-cute. Awkward yet endearing introductions give way to the greater depths and pitfalls of emotional connection. However, hanging over the entire experience is the fact that this film is not a love story that has a happy ending. Adapted from the 2017 memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello, it is not compromising the experience to tell you that that is exactly what happens in the end. After spending years with the man he thought he would grow old with, Michael (Jim Parsons) is going to lose Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge) to cancer. All the various treatments and doctors will not be able to put off this inevitable outcome. Each joyous joke the two share carries with it the tragic potential that it may be the very last mirthful memory that they will ever get to laugh at together.

As such, every moment of comedy becomes increasingly painful as the film gently guides us toward the death it warned us was coming. The story, as written by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage, is one of bittersweet reflections that thrives in the moments of more measured melancholy. From the scene where Michael and Kit share a heartfelt yet confessional conversation to even the one where they say nothing at all while looking out at the horizon together, it makes for an experience that sufficiently earns its emotional impact. What begins to increasingly compromise this is how the film repeatedly pulls us out of this more sublime state of being by breaking through the tranquility with fraught and increasingly forced diversions. Taking the form of everything from oddly clunky narration to scattered sitcom reenactments of Michael’s childhood, the film frequently indulges in spelling things out in a manner that works better on the page than it does on the screen. Many of the performances do manage to be compelling and prevent these narrative intrusions from compromising the experience entirely. Still, significant moments are made saccharine in a manner that rings hollow when it shouldn’t. The jokes largely land, but the film frequently gets in its own way.

The true standout that holds it all together is not Parsons, even as we see the story through his eyes, but Aldridge. Having been most familiar with his work from when he was in the enduringly outstanding series Fleabag, there is something delightful about seeing him take on a more central role here that also makes it even more exciting for when he’ll be in the upcoming Knock at the Cabin. It is not just how he carries many of the comedic scenes on his charisma, but how he is able to draw us into the more devastating moments as well. Even when the dialogue is rather ham-handed, he manages to give it a great deal more heart than one could ever think was possible. That he is the “hero” that gets referred to is not to put Kit on a pedestal. Rather, we see him as a truly complete person with his flaws and fears gradually teased out. None of this more complex portrait would work nearly as well without Aldridge taking hold of it. The vibrancy and joy with how he brings Kit to life only makes it all the more crushing as we see him authentically capture how that is being snuffed out.

Image via Focus Features

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The longer the film went on, the more it became clear that it ought to have looked more at his character both in an emotional sense and a thematic one. While the story was written from the perspective of Michael, there is a persistent sense that he is somewhat overbearing. There are a number of moments where Kit will try to speak up for himself and what he wants to see happen only to be overridden. This is clearly meant to convey how Michael is trying to gain control over the situation and is, completely understandably, having a hard time dealing with all this. Where it becomes messy is when this emotional emphasis begins swallowing up any insights we could get into any of the other characters.

We get introduced to Kit’s charming and compassionate friend Nina (Nikki M. James) early on, though there is next to no interest the film has in who she is as a person or how she feels about the whole situation. Even his parents Marilyn (Sally Field) and Bob (Bill Irwin) are made largely one note. Looking to Showalter’s earlier film, The Big Sick, it is night and day in seeing how the family aspects are explored. While Spoiler Alert is clearly less interested in this aspect of the story, it subsequently lessens the impact when we don’t come to know who many of these people are. While Field gets some potentially interesting scenes where her character goes on runs with Michael, they are far too fleeting and prove to be a regrettable waste of her talents.

As the story becomes increasingly filtered through Parsons’ performance, there is far too much that ultimately gets lost in the process. There is still much to appreciate in the quieter moments, but it is the more blunt ones that fall flat. One moment, which is highlighted in the film’s trailer, sees Parsons shouting at a nurse to “get my husband a bed” to convey Michael’s desperation and helplessness. This is turned into an odd joke with the remark that this moment was “Oscar-worthy.” While awards are not the sign of a good performance, this moment is far from likely to get any as it sees Parsons noticeably straining to hit the right emotional notes and falling short. The scenes that are more stripped down and less showy are where he is able to be more natural. Alas, the film can’t help but be showy. The reference to the Oscars is part of how Michael, an entertainment journalist, has made sense of his life through what he himself has watched on the screen. This crosses from being lightly intriguing into the film almost sabotaging itself when, in a climactic scene, we are pulled right out of what is happening into a fantasy. It is painfully blunt what this is meant to mean and the execution almost dooms the entire thing when it rips us away from the more honest conclusion. Yet somehow, even with its many flaws, the way Aldridge brings life to this story of death ensures Spoiler Alert remains whole despite its story nearly breaking itself to pieces.

Rating: B-

Spoiler Alert is in theaters now.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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