“Hi honey – I’m cancer!”
Story: Michael Ausiello has things together y’all. He’s a writer at TVGuide, has a nice pad in Jersey, and figures The Guy is just something that’s not in the cards for him. But they Kit Cowan appears…and for fourteen years, they’re the Happy Couple Goals we all aspire to. But then one day Kit feels a bit off. And then things get bad. Really bad. Uh, cue title; it’s super bad.
Genre I’d put it in: Bittersweet Love Stories That Could Use More Heart
Release Date: 2022
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the book “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies” by Michael Ausiello
Gotta say: Alert is very much like those large chocolate Easter Bunnies or Santas (let’s get seasonal y’all.) Promising, fun to anticipate getting into, but ultimately hollow. It’s not to say that the film is bad – far from it I thought many a parts of it were quite good. But when you release a movie about an individual in a love story where one half happens to be dying of cancer during December’s award season onslaught? Let’s just say that at this time of year, I’m expecting a little bit more than good. With this story and cast, I was expecting great. Ah well.
The screenplay is a mix of treacle, boilerplate, and truth, the latter probably heavily taken from Ausiello’s book/experiences. The quote I used to start off this review is probably the most realistic “laugh otherwise you’ll start screaming” bit of realness this film has. Everyone who’s ever lost someone or supported them through their bought(s) with cancer can feel that one in their soul. Heck, as a cancer survivor myself (papillary thyroid, cancer-free since 1996 baybeeeee), that’s exactly the kind of stupid crap I’d spout while waiting to see if/when I’d get the all-clear. But mostly, dialogue is run-of-the-mill, from the meet-cute to the final moments. I didn’t expect Sorkin, but as someone who’s seen many a “terminal patient’s brave fight” films, I’ve seen it done much better in other stories.
As Kit, Bob Aldridge is given little to work with; he’s simply “handsome” before diagnosis, and then shifts to “trying his best to be brave” afterward. And Jim Parson’s Mike gets to dig in a little bit more, but almost every time we seem to be getting to an emotional breakthrough with Mike? We get record-scratched to Mike’s coping mechanism, which is a make-believe sitcom that takes the place of his real memories of growing up. Or, in an all-but unforgiveable moment, takes the place of an extremely emotional point during the film’s climax, done in such a way I almost screamed “WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IS THIS CRAP” with my whole voice. I couldn’t forgive the film for this stupidity after that FUBAR, especially when the emotional grip Alert had on me was tenuous at best. Aldridge and Parsons have the chops for seriously heartfelt emotions, and it’s a pity that here, they get the screenplay rug pulled out from under them the majority of the time.
As Kit’s parents Marylin and Bob, Sally Fields and Bill Irwin absolutely understood the assignment; Field has already done the grieving parent role a time or two, so sinks in effortlessly. Irwin simply hangs back in a believable Dad kinda way, letting Field take the stage. Parsons and Aldridge got the gist of things, but as the leads they had to carry the bulk of the story, which required a director that could properly communicate what he was trying to get across, and what he needed from each scene. It’s thankfully a rare thing when I’m getting film school flashbacks during a screening, but even my tiny brain noted that many scenes in Alert could have used a more forceful directorial touch. In Alert, Michael Showalter sadly fails to evoke memorable moments, whether they be humorous or heartfelt. And there are quite a few moments that were itching to become something more, and instead just unspooled as the film’s time plodded on. (Seriously, this film is less than two hours, and felt much longer.) Which leaves me gobsmacked, as he did such an excellent job with another biographical love story with a cancer theme, The Big Sick.
I walked away from Alert thinking the film was overall a good one, even though it felt like a cable movie in an award season world. It’s okay enough to get a pass from folks looking for something more than the latest boom-boom-pow, or want a small story instead of award season bombast.
#Protip: If you’re looking for an LGBTQ-centric film that balances bitter and sweet? May I humbly suggest Other People, Freeheld, or Tig?