Movie Review ~ Spoiler Alert

The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir, the film is a heartwarming, funny, and life-affirming story of how Michael and Kit’s relationship is transformed and deepened when one of them falls ill.
Stars: Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field, Bill Irwin
Director: Michael Showalter
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 112 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Aside from ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ back in grade school, I can’t remember when I sobbed while reading a book before ‘Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies.’  Michael Ausiello’s 2017 memoir about his life with husband Kit Cowan, from their initial meeting until his death from neuroendocrine cancer in 2015, was a harrowing, unvarnished look at one couple and their relationship’s ups and downs.  It documented not only how being with someone can be wildly romantic and wonderful but that the bad times can be a struggle and make you feel like the effort can be for naught.  Ultimately, the love shared between them was what made the loss so devastating, and that was beautifully conveyed to the reader.

I didn’t know how that would be captured on film.

The movie adaptation, shortened to Spoiler Alert, has been brought to life by screenwriters Dan Savage (yes, that Dan Savage) and actor David Marshall Grant (who has a small role), and they’ve taken Ausiello’s book and presented it to viewers as a real gift.  That same emotional beauty is still there, and how they’ve structured the piece pays tribute to Michael and Kit’s bond but also tips its hat in numerous ways to the kind of romantic comedies and tear-jerkers many of us grew up with.

Admittedly, I can’t say that I’m a fan of Jim Parsons (The Boys in the Band), so his casting as Michael gave me doubts.  I still find him a bit too gangly for the role and slightly too old, but he carries the film with the appropriate weight and sincerity it needs.  Ben Aldridge (Knock at the Cabin) is the winner between the two, deftly showing the range of feelings from Kit and likely having less real-world access to draw from in doing so.  Then there’s Sally Field (Lincoln), who knows her way around a five-hanky weepie or two, correctly netting more laughs than tears as Kit’s triathlete mom.  The great Bill Irwin (Interstellar) is also on hand for the grounded performance only an actor with his gravitas could offer.

Director Michael Showalter is undoubtedly on a roll with finding projects that draw out beautiful performances from his stars.  On the big screen, he’s been at the helm of The Eyes of Tammy Faye and The Big Sick, and on the small screen, his work has been represented in The Dropout, and I Love That For You. You’ll notice how many of these have been rightfully rewarded/awarded by voting bodies – that has to say something about his contributions from his perch in the director’s seat. 

Note: Due to timing, I missed Spoiler Alert in theaters, and that’s a good and a bad thing. It’s good because, like reading the book, I cried so hard I needed an entire roll of paper towel to squeegee off my face.  Bad because the film had an unfairly short theatrical run and disappointingly small box office take.  These are the kind of impactful, human stories that audiences crave, and I’m more than a little surprised it didn’t take off more. Here’s hoping a far greater audience discovers this at home.

Movie Review ~ Hello, My Name is Doris

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A self-help seminar inspires a sixty-something woman to romantically pursue her younger co-worker.

Stars: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani, Peter Gallagher, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tyne Daly, Beth Behrs

Director: Michael Showalter

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Some people watch scary movies peeking out from behind their hands covering their eyes. I do the same thing for movies with socially awkward people trying and failing to be heard. There’s something inherently not enjoyable about seeing a person already uncomfortable in their own skin being put through an emotional ringer. For the masochists out there that love a good grimace, you need look no further than Hello, My Name is Doris, a whiffle of a dramedy that ultimately finds success in its lead performers.

Sally Field is Doris, a data processer at a hip New York ad agency that has kept her around for politically correct reasons rather than necessity. Mourning the recent loss of her mother and avoiding the urges of her brother and his wife to sell their family home, she finds a ray of sunshine when John Fremont (Max Greenfield, The Big Short) joins the company. Newly relocated from Malibu, John is everything Doris is not…young, current, and confident. Doris develops a fixation on John and daydreams about him saying sweet words before locking her in a passionate embrace.

There’s more to the story thought, with a hoarding subplot that seeks to explain a little more about why Doris acts and reacts the way she does. Her friends (Tyne Daly, Caroline Aaron) chalk up the obsession to another wild fantasy Doris has dreamed up, before realizing too late that she’s doing more damage to herself in the process. When John starts dating another woman, Doris drinks away her sorrows and innocently sets into motion events that lead to an inevitable denouement.

You’ll wince through a lot of the movie; only because it’s hard to see a character so clueless learn such difficult lessons late in life. Shielded somewhat from the outside world and dreams of romance after caring for her mother for so many years, Doris sees John as a chance to reclaim some of the years she’s lost but can’t see that they’re on two different journeys running parallel to each other.

As usual Field (Steel Magnolias) is a treat, coloring Doris in a way that makes you feel for her even when she’s making a wrong move. I feel like every character in the film has at least one moment where they have a ‘poor Doris’ look on their face and Field earns those melancholy stares. Her best moments come near the end of the film, especially in one dialogue-free scene where the buttoned up woman literally lets her hair down and sees herself for the first time as she really is underneath all of her accessories.

Field is well matched by the appealing Greenfield, who manages to take a role that could have been your standard unattainable dreamboat and show some nuance to him as well with writer/director Michael Showalter (adapting this from a short film by Laura Terruso) making sure that John isn’t the image of perfection. At one point John tells Doris that he worries he’s boring…and you can see it’s a genuine fear of his. Because like Doris, he just wants to be noticed for who he is.

At 95 minutes, the film is well-paced and ever so slightly rough around its independent edges. More thought seems to have gone into Doris’s thrift store wardrobe and headscarves than continuity. Like Doris, it’s a bit thrown together and flat out drops certain central characters without much fanfare. A rather impressive roster of familiar faces pepper the supporting cast but their appearances are so brief that they become even more inconsequential to a film that only wants to focus (rightfully so) on the leads.

If you can muscle through an hour and a half of squirming uncomfortably every time Doris rocks out to electronic dance music or is caught embarrassingly daydreaming of romantic interludes, this might be the movie for you. It’s surely worth it for the performances Field and Greenfield turn in…but it’s not an easy watch.