A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a Hollywood film executive greenlit the production of Spoiler Alert. The film’s premise? Two handsome men meetup cute in a Manhattan bar. One’s a manly, sensitive hunk. The other, a self-admitted, ex-fat boy nerd.
As they say in Hollywood, what could go wrong?
The promise of a mainstream gay romcom is that it might navigate away from stereotype. Popular benchmark television shows like the Will & Grace and Modern Family paved the way by placing a spotlight on difficult to discuss topics. As a result, a majority of Americans today are comfortable with the idea of same-sex relationships in life and in film. And speaking from direct experience, there an abundance of comedy to be mined in their realistic portrayal.
With Spoiler Alert, Screenwriters David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage have fashioned a film that’s, at first, engaging. We’re rooting for this boy meets boy bar hookup to spin into relationship gold. It looks promising, but there’s just not enough well-placed energy spent on making it believable. Soon into this formulaic plot we begin to feel a cringe factor working it’s way toward us, keeping us at arm’s distance from the two people whose intimacy we will soon need to feel.
This particular relationship has a credibility gap. Although interesting character types on their own, together, these two have much to overcome in a difficult transition into successful coupledom. The truth is, total opposites don’t always attract. It could work to a film’s advantage if it’s stars were, say, the quirky Katherine Hepburn fast-talking her way into the life of a stoically sensible, Spencer Tracy. Or a huggable Kate Hudson working against type with an ab-fab Matthew McConaughey. But relationship friction normally comes from what lies underneath the surface, and these two men don’t have the goods.
The film does its best job while inviting us in. Give or take a few scenes that strain credulity, we want to emotionally attach. The appealing Jim Parsons (The Normal Heart, The Boys in the Band) is Michael Ausiello, real-life author of the book which generated the film. After a few solid scenes at the outset of the film, Parsons morphs into a second-hand rendition of the Sheldon character he played on The Big Bang Theory. Ben Aldridge (Fleabag), plays boyfriend Kit Cowan as a softer, romcom version of Gerard Butler. But underneath, he’s an all hat, no cattle, kind of gay man, simply trying to survive the prevailing winds of Michael’s sly, self-deprecating humor.
After a brief a time, the two men set up house. Michael learns Kit has yet to discuss sexual preference with his parents. (Wouldn’t that have come up before the couple visited a locksmith?) Kit’s parents, a peevish Sally Field (Norma Rae, Lincoln) and a doddering Bill Irwin, (The Gilded Age, The Andy Warhol Diaries) soon visit their son’s new digs. Michael is present (awkward!) but doing little to make anyone believe he’s just a friend. Ms. Field, confused by the living arrangements, asks why Michael knows where the linens are kept. Ostensibly without a premeditated thought in his head, Kit surprisingly spills the beans about his proclivities. “Gay?” Field asks. “I call you all the time. You never found it important to tell me this before?” Dad’s tone-deaf response? “I think it’s really great.” Is a mother/father/son shopping date at Bloomingdales soon in the offing?
Warning to gay men and boys everywhere who’ve yet to come out to their parents: it doesn’t usually go down like this.
Time moves forward. There are relationship troubles in the concrete canyons of Manhattan. Following the obligatory spin in front of a numb therapist, the couple separates. Then, all too fast, there’s the dreaded diagnosis of rectal cancer for Kit. Michael, fighting his way back into his ex-lover’s life as caregiver, insists they see at least three renowned New York oncologists for second opinions. Two portray Kit’s situation as somewhat hopeful. The last one lowers the boom with a devastating Stage Four diagnosis. Surely we will now witness the internal personal conflict and external struggles that accompany such harrowing predicaments.
Yet, as we turn into the film’s final curve, it’s difficult to transfer our compassion for Kit into an experience more than tepid for the two. There’s not been enough significant, purposeful world-building to deserve more from us. And perhaps that’s the largest letdown of Spoiler Alert. Romantic comedies that end in tragedy should not – when the theater lights get turned up – leave an audience feeling they’ve let down the cute, dreamy characters that seemed so enticing just two hours earlier.
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