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And the Tissue Goes To

Spoiler Alert

by Hope Madden

In 2017, Michael Showalter directed the best romantic comedy of the modern age, The Big Sick. So, even though the majority of his filmography feels like a near miss – The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The Lovebirds, Hello My Name Is Doris – whatever he delivers, I want to open. Even an avowed tear-jerker, even the same week I see The Whale. I loved The Big Sick so much, I gladly signed up for two public displays of bawling.

And yet…

Spoiler Alert is Michael Ausiello’s (Jim Parsons) true tale of romance, loss and sitcom love. A TV Guide writer, Michael tended to look back on his tragic childhood as if it were an 80s sitcom, replete with life lessons and a laugh track.

Showalter stages these moments like they are right out of Gimme a Break or any of that era’s centrally located couch-and-hijinks programs. They stand out, not because they’re clever or funny, but because they don’t fit in a film that is otherwise a tender if traditionally structured tragedy.

The socially awkward Ausiello meets and quickly falls for gorgeous, fun-loving Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge). This ushers us into the sweet and odd moments (Ausiello has an extreme Smurf collection) that mark the couple’s development.

Showalter works from Dan Savage and David Marshall Grant’s adaptation of Ausiello’s book. The writers have primarily done TV – a medium clearly suited to Parsons. And here’s where the film really stumbles. Spoiler Alert is, of course, not a TV show and only feels like a TV show on occasions that pull you out of an emotional moment. Rather than creating a narrative thread or even an interesting gimmick, the TV angle distracts – sometimes quite frustratingly – from what otherwise feels like a very honest and necessary look at love.

Showalter alum and all-American gem Sally Field brings needed authenticity to the film, and Aldridge often excels as the hot Oscar to Parsons’s Felix. Plus, the sometimes frank sexuality is more than welcome.

But none of it fits. The framework – Ausiello delivering his life story as if he’s recounting a favorite TV show – is distracting at best. It robs the film of its passion and guarantees the feeling of inauthenticity. It has its moments, but it never delivers any honest laughter or tears.