Where are the gays?
It’s something I think about, well, everywhere I go. But I’m really searching for them this awards season.
Every year, there is some sort of industry collective that decides what movies are the “awards movies.” It never makes sense. It especially doesn’t make sense this year.
I’m thinking about this, particularly, in regards to Spoiler Alert, a movie that should be experiencing a CODA-like surge in awards attention. But I’m also wondering why Joel Kim Booster, the writer of Fire Island, isn’t a part of the fancy roundtables that the trade magazines are producing. I’m wondering why Bros and Billy Eichner, who probably made the best romantic comedy in a decade (that just happened to also be gay), isn’t a part of the conversation either.
I’ve watched a lot of movies this year. None have hit me as deeply or as viscerally as Spoiler Alert. It is the film that, when anyone asks me, I recommend. So why does it feel like some sort of word-of-mouth secret? It should be at the top of everyone’s minds.
Spoiler Alert is based on the book by journalist Michael Ausiello, about his relationship with his husband, Kit, who died of cancer. It is devastating. It is moving. It is incredibly funny. But more than that, it’s one of the most relatable films I’ve seen in a long time: It chronicles what it’s like to fall in love, the difficulties that sprout in a long-term relationship, and the way that death’s dooming door changes everything. How human.
These are themes that are incredibly Oscar-friendly. Spoiler Alert seems aware of this, to the point where it even has a scene referencing Shirley MacLaine’s iconic Oscar-winning moment from Terms of Endearment. There’s an earnestness and a relatable sense of heartache and hopelessness that reverberated in that film, and it echoes in Spoiler Alert.
It’s a cliché at this point for Hollywood to only validate gay love when it ends in a tragic death, but Spoiler Alert, by revealing that part upfront, isn’t actually about that. It’s about the romance, the dedication, and the work that goes into being in love. (Maybe if Sean Penn played the lead, we’d be talking about it more.)
While I haven’t cried harder at a movie since my recent rewatch of Stepmom, the film isn’t just about that. As directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, The Eyes of Tammy Faye), it brims with both joy and graciousness for the reality of love’s highs as much as its hardship—in humor and in hurt.
What’s frustrating is that a film like Spoiler Alert often figures into the Oscars race. Take CODA, which was the emotional, feel-good winner at last year’s ceremony. Spoiler Alert resonates in a similar way, especially for a community whose love and whose family is rarely seen on screen.
Another good, recent comparison would be The Big Sick, also directed by Showalter; it too tells the very personal story about a couple dealing with illness and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. But before that nomination happened, The Big Sick was also in the conversation for other major awards the entire season, from Best Picture to acting nods for Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, as the parents of an adult who has a health crisis. (Sally Field and Bill Irwin from Spoiler Alert are right there!)
I don’t think I’m alone in my praise for Spoiler Alert here. In fact, the industry website Deadline reported on the film’s strong word-of-mouth praise, and the social media reaction has been rapturous. Anne Hathaway devoted an entire post to it on her Instagram, calling the movie a “wonderful, bold, funny, tear-jerker.” To me, this sounds like the makings of the crowd-pleaser, feel-good Oscar choice. (By the way, it’s now available to watch on-demand.)
Instead, Spoiler Alert hasn’t received any of the awards buzz or early recognition it deserves. It’s not just Spoiler Alert that’s been left behind, either. One of the best-reviewed movies of the year was Bros, which has also been left out of the conversation. Yes, its discourse overshadowed the movie, unfortunately, but the fact remains that it is a very funny, well-made romantic comedy.
It was produced by Judd Apatow, who is one of the only producers in Hollywood that can elevate a comedy to awards attention. The Big Sick and Bridesmaids, both films he was attached to, were Oscar-nominated, while Funny People, This Is 40, Knocked Up, and Trainwreck were all major players in the awards conversations in their respective years. Bros earned better reviews than all of them. By a longshot.
And if we’re doing the masturbatory thing each year of spotlighting diverse, breakout, and revered new Hollywood players in splashy photo shoots and starry interviews, I don’t understand why Joel Kim Booster, who wrote and starred in Fire Island (now streaming on Hulu), isn’t a part of every conversation. It’s rare for a film with an all-gay, diverse cast to also be lent the dignity of exploring their flaws, insecurities, and hopes. (Plus, Andrew Ahn’s direction was just so pretty.)
The film’s ensemble did get very deserved recognition from the Gotham Awards, and it’s not Oscars-eligible because of screening requirements by the Academy. But in a nebulous time when those streaming/theatrical lines are blurred (and we’re all just waiting to watch Avatar 2 on our iPads anyway), where is the industry elevation Booster should receive?
An argument like this needs 400 caveats: I’m aware that films like Tár, The Whale, The Inspection, and Everything Everywhere All at Once all feature queer characters and are heavily factoring into the awards discourse. But it’s frustrating still that when gay characters are the protagonists, in films written by gay creators, that center gay love as the main plot, the movies continue to be ignored. Especially when, unlike The Inspection (which is very good), they’re not indie films, but pitched at the mainstream demographic.
Spoiler alert: There’s a pattern.