‘Spoiler Alert’: Nice guys find one another for a beautiful, ultimately tragic love story

Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge have natural chemistry in a film that deftly blends wry humor with heartfelt drama.

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Christmas enthusiast Michael (Jim Parsons, left) gets to spend many a holiday with Kit (Ben Aldridge) in “Spoiler Alert.”

Focus Features

They shortened the title of Michael Ausiello’s 2017 memoir “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies” to the generic and vague “Spoiler Alert” for the movie, but Michael Showalter’s warm, funny and moving adaptation makes it clear from the opening scene that we’re about to watch a love story that ends in tragic and premature death. We start at the end and then make our way back to the beginning — and what transpires over the course of a 13-year relationship and over the course of the movie has us reaching for the tissues when we return back to the hospital and that opening scene.

Now we know about the two wonderful, real, flawed and lovely people in this relationship. Now we know everything they’ve been through up to this moment. Now we have great empathy for them, and we wish it could end differently, but we already know it won’t.

Director Showalter (who mined similar territory in “The Big Sick,” one of the best movies of 2017) and screenwriters David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage display a deft touch for blending wry humor with heartfelt drama, and Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge have a natural and comfortable chemistry in a story that hits a lot of familiar notes but contains some creatively clever devices while packing, yes, a whole lot of heart.

‘Spoiler Alert’

Untitled

Focus Features presents a film directed by Michael Showalter and written by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage, based on a book by Michael Ausiello. Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, drug use and thematic element). Running time: 112 minutes. Opens Thursday in local theaters.

With a nod to such classic weepers as “Love Story” and “Terms of Endearment” (which actually gets a shout-out in one memorable scene), “Spoiler Alert” is a beautifully rendered drama-comedy about a seemingly mismatched couple who overcome their respective insecurities and misgivings and find a sense of belonging neither has really known as an adult. They also resent one another, get into some terrible fights, begin to doubt whether they should stay together and even separate at one point — just like probably half the couples we know, and half the relationships we’ve been in.

Serving as the narrator for the story, Parsons’ Michael is a tall and handsome but socially awkward dweeb who writes for TV Guide, which is kind of a dream come true for Michael because he grew up in a single-parent household and loved watching soap operas with his mother (Tara Summers). When we flash back to Michael’s childhood, it’s in the form of a conventional 1980s sitcom, though the canned laughter hardly seems fitting, given Michael comes home from school with stories of being bullied for his size and because his father died.

On a rare night out, Michael meets the hunky photographer Kit (Ben Aldridge) in a gay club, and they exchange some passionate kisses — but Michael is still surprised when Kit calls and they start dating. (In one particularly touching and effective scene, Michael and Kit are in Kit’s bedroom, about to become intimate, when Michael stops Kit from removing his shirt and explains that as an “FFK” — Former Fat Kid — he still has body issues. Kit handles the situation with kindness and gentle humor, and we begin to see the promise in this relationship.)

Even as the relationship grows, Michael and Kit encounter a number of possible stumbling blocks, from Michael’s obsession with Smurfs, yes, Smurfs, to Kit revealing he’s never told his parents he’s gay to Michael’s suspicions about Kit’s friendship with a handsome co-worker. The years go by, chronicled by one Christmas card after another. (Michael is very passionate about celebrating Christmas because it reminds him of the happiest part of his childhood. There’s never any talk about going to church or faith; it’s all about the trees and the lights and the dinner parties and the annual holiday card photo.)

More than a decade into the relationship, Michael and Kit find themselves growing apart and Kit even moves out as they see a therapist and work on repairing things — and that’s about the time Kit gets diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Cue the scenes of Kit feeling the effects of chemotherapy, of the doctor issuing increasingly dire warnings, of one last idyllic weekend on the shore, with Kit’s parents joining Michael and Kit, of the uptight Michael finally agreeing to smoke pot with Kit. There’s a very late moment when “Spoiler Alert” takes a pretty big swing that initially comes off as jarring and threatens our emotional investment in the proceedings, but thanks to the strong writing and the powerful performances by Parsons and Aldridge, the scene eventually lands.

As you’d expect, Sally Field and Bill Irwin are great together as Kit’s parents, who are so loving and accepting, you wonder why Kit waited so long to come out to them. Mostly, though, this is the story of Michael and Kit, and even though they’re not going to get the 40 or 50 years they might have hoped to have together, they’re eternally grateful for the time they did have, and we feel fortunate to have spent time with them.

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