Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello (2017)
Spoiler Alert directed by Michael Showalter (2022)
This is the true story of Michael and Kit’s 14-year relationship; the last 11 months of which Kit was battling cancer. As you can see by the title, Kit dies in the end of the book and movie.
I absolutely loved this memoir! Ausiello doesn’t tell the story chronologically but goes back and forth between the 11 months that Kit had cancer, and their dating years. I loved how we jumped back and forth in time and the book as a whole is just so well written. It is funny, witty, heartfelt, sad, sweet, gut wrenching, and enduring. There were so many times I chuckled while reading this, but also so many times that I got choked up.
This was a five-star read for me (quite a way to start 2023!) and I would highly recommend it. I went back and forth between reading the book and listening to the audiobook which Ausiello narrates and I highly recommend listening to it.
This is a movie I wish I would have watched first before the book. I loved the book so much, that when I watched the movie, it just didn’t pack as much of a punch as the book had. Had I watched it first though, I think I would have liked it so much more because I wouldn’t be comparing it to anything!
Jim Parsons plays Michael and I didn’t have a problem with his acting but I did think he was too old for the part. Parsons knew Ausiello (Ausiello works in tv and interviewed Parsons many times through the years) and when Parsons was reading the book, his husband walked in on him sobbing. The two of them then began the process of optioning it for a movie. So, despite me thinking he was the best casting choice, I love that he knew Ausiello personally and that he was so invested (literally and figuratively) in getting this movie made.
Unlike the book, the movie is told in chronological order and even though I preferred the book in that sense, I get why the movie chose to tell the story in order.
Before I get into the details of the book and movie and what is changed, I want to warn you there will be spoilers for the book and movie throughout the rest of this episode!
Early years of their relationship
In both, Kit and Michael meet at a gay party and quickly hit it off and soon are on a first date. In both, Michael says he doesn’t drink alcohol and prefers diet coke, which he is a conesuer of. In both, they go to Kit’s apartment and Kit has a roommate named Kirby. In the book, Kirby is a man who is very antisocial and Kit made him out to be difficult and potentially homophobic, but Michael never really has any negative interaction with him. In the movie, Kirby is a woman and she is someone they remain friends with through the years.
In both, Michael is self-conscious of his body because growing up he was very overweight. In the book, we learn he has a lot of loose skin on his stomach that he is embarrassed about. In the movie, they are started to undress, when Michael gets self-conscious and so they stop and just talk instead. After sharing about themselves, they then are ready to have sex. In the book, they don’t have sex for the first two weeks of dating because Michael is working up the courage for it.
In both, Michael has a Smurf collecting obsession and is nervous about having Kit at his place and seeing his collection. In the book, Kit sits and needs a moment to take it all in. In the movie, Kit uses this opportunity to confess to Michael that he fooled around with someone and feels guilty about it even though at this point he and Michael aren’t exclusive. But they share they are scared of committing to each other, but also they are both falling for each other and they become boyfriends.
In the book, Kit fools around with someone when they are officially dating. Michael is hurt, but he forgives Kit and they move past it.
In the book, when they have been dating for about a month, they feel like they are falling in love but neither is ready to take the leap to say “I love you”. Kit says that if you mouth “olive juice”, it looks like you are saying “I love you” and they start mouthing it to each other and saying it to each other before eventually saying the actual words. I thought this scene in the book was very cute.
In real life, Michael’s mom died of lung cancer when he was 16, and his dad died when he was 22. In the movie, it seems his dad died when he was very young because we never see him. We get flashbacks to his childhood with his mom and these scenes play out like a sitcom and I thought that was a nice touch, given that Michael was tv obsessed his whole life.
In both, when Michael and Kit are first dating, Kit’s parents don’t know that Kit is gay. When Kit gets an appendectomy, and Michael is there helping under the guise of being just a friend, Kit uses this opportunity to tell his parents. In the book, he planned to do so ahead of time. Once they came home from the hospital, Michael took his leave knowing Kit was going to use this time to tell his mom (his dad wasn’t there). His mom has a range of emotions, but ultimately his parents are very supportive.
In the movie, Michael is at Kit’s apartment with his parents, and the mom is very thrown off on who Michael is and why he is still there and Kit tells them he is gay and Michael is his boyfriend. The parents then are hurt that Kit felt he couldn’t’ have told them earlier and the dad says they might not look it, but they are very hip. I thought this was a sweet and funny scene in the movie. Even though it isn’t what actually happened, I get why they made the change.
In the movie, they are having a Christmas party with friends when it is revealed that Kit and Michael are kind of on a break and no longer living together. We then get a montage of them in therapy and I loved this segment. It was funny, but also relatable and it rang true as far as relationships go.
In the book Kit does end up getting another apartment, but he and Michael were still together, just living separate. This is told to us when they are going on a trip to Atlantic City for Michael’s birthday with some friends. It is on this trip that Kit expresses having pains in his backside and has problems with bowel movements. In the movie, it is the night of the Christmas party.
Also, in the book they started seeing a therapist early on in their dating and through the years it was a regular appointment they kept.
The cancer diagnosis
Kit goes to the doctor and when he hears back about the biopsy, Michael is in an interview. In the book he is interviewing Keri Russell, and actress he has been close to the past few years, and her co-star. In the movie, he is interviewing someone unknown. He gets the text saying it is a tumor, and then has to go through the interview as if all is normal and resists the temptation to unload his fears onto Russell.
From there, they go to three different doctors to decide which one they want to do chemotherapy with. The first two doctors give a hopeful prognosis, but the third facility is by far the nicest and it provides beds which is important because it is too painful to Kit to sit for four hours. This doctor walks in looking like she is doctor in a tv show because she is so elegant and stylish, only to become the Grim Reaper by telling them Kit has stage 4 cancer and has about a year to live.
Despite her grim news, this is the center they decide to go with. When he hears the news of how serious the cancer is, it is heartbreaking to see Kit respond to such news in both book and movie. They then go to a restaurant and Kit snaps some photos of Michael and then Michael takes some pictures of Kit. From the book we read, “I turned the camera on him. I rarely did this because I never felt more insecure than when I was taking photos in Kit’s presence. It was like trying to perform a monologue in front of Meryl Streep. But I saw something in him— perhaps it was the same thing he had just seen in me—that demanded to be photographed. My sadness suddenly gave way to soul-crushing guilt as I snapped photo after photo and really looked at him. Why didn’t I do this more often? Why didn’t I notice him—like really notice him—the way he did me when the camera was in his hands? It had taken cancer to get me to do something as basic as pay real, close, special attention to Kit. I started to cry. I put my iPhone down. And then we ordered lunch.”
Up until now, Kit had been the more composed one. When we see him show his emotions it was so heartbreaking. One passage reads, ““I don’t want to die!” he wailed as he rested his head on my chest. He attempted to speak more, but his hyperventilating body was making that tough. He found a way to get the words out. “I’m going to fight as hard as I can . . . but if I can’t fight anymore, promise me you will live for both of us. Promise me, Mike.” The expression “hell on earth” had never felt so apropos than in that very moment. Listening to the love of my life painfully, tearfully expressing a passionate will to live just hours after being told he had terminal cancer, and then following that up with a plea for me to live on his behalf, was so excruciatingly painful that I can’t find the words now to accurately describe it.”
Before seeing this last doctor, Michael decided he wanted to marry Kit. Neither of them had an interest in being married before, but he wanted to be by Kit’s side as his husband and he battled cancer. He proposed and Kit said yes, and they decided to go to city hall after the last doctor meeting.
They get to city hall but learn they need a special paper from the judge to be married that very day. They run to where the judge is in a building across the street but turns out the judge literally just left. Kit tells the guard they need the judge right now because he has cancer and starts chemo Monday and they have to be married today. The guy is then able to get the paper and they run back to city hall just in time to officially tie the knot.
This was again, just such a great scene in the book and it was very cinematic as well. Which is why it surprised me the movie changed the details of their wedding.
In the movie, Kit is against marriage so even though Michael likes the thought of being married, they don’t do it. Then, when Kit’s cancer has grown and he is given less than six months to live, Kit decides he wants to marry Michael and they go to city hall and are married.
It was a sweet scene in the movie, but it was just much better in the book.
But I like how in book and movie, but especially the book, when they learn Kit has cancer, suddenly the issues they had in their relationship didn’t seem to matter and they fell away as they realized what really did mattered. Reading this book made me think of my own relationships and realize who these things that we think are so frustrating don’t even matter. It was a book that made me apricate the people in my life all the more, as I read about how much he and Kit cared about each other. As well as reading about how supportive Kit’s parents were throughout this whole experience as well.
On their first day for chemotherapy, they arrive to the room and there are only recliners, not beds. In both, Michael is very firm that Kit has to have a bed. In the movie he makes more of a scene, but in he holds firm in making sure Kit can lay on his side to alleviate the pain. After he gets him a bed, in the book it reads, “While the events of the past three weeks had clearly foreshadowed the hands-on role I would take in Kit’s medical care, this morning’s chair-gate brouhaha had firmly established how I would tackle my job as caregiver: ferociously, passionately, and with zero tolerance for bullshit. And it felt good. It felt good to fight for something without worrying about my emotions getting the best of me or how I’d be perceived or what the possible blowback would be. It felt good to love someone so much that literally nothing was as important as making sure that person was safe and comfortable and protected.”
As time goes on, the tumor grows and spreads to other parts of his body, including his brain. Kit doesn’t want to die in a hospital though and they start hospice at home. This is a lot for Michael, and at one point they do put him in the hospital and Michael feels like he can finally go back to being Kit’s husband because he no longer needs to be the one changing colostomy bags and things. There is one night, I think this is in the hospital, where Kit was in pain and Michael would massage his feet, then his head, then feed him some food. This happened off and on throughout the night and Michael said it was one of the most intimate experiences he ever had with Kit. I loved this too, because in relationships when you are caring for someone when they truly need you and are their most vulnerable, really does feel so intimate. None of this was in the movie by the way. In the movie, they have him set up in a hospital and that’s where he stays.
In the movie, they know Kit is about to pass and the parents leave Michael alone with him. Michael lays beside him in the bed, and then thinks like, what if this were a scene in a movie. Kit then gets out of bed and we see the move equipment all around and Michael follows him and approaches his to interview him like he does for work. We get an emotional scene as Michael asks Kit how he feels about leaving, as well as asking him what he thinks about Michael and what he should do. We then go back to real life with Michael in bed with Kit, and Kit passes.
We then see Michael moving to LA.
In the book and movie there is a scene when they are on the balcony and Michael tries weed for the first time and they ask each other different things, like if Kit is scared to die, and Michael asks him if he had sex with this coworker. Kit says yes, they did have sex and Michael tells him he forgives him. Kit is crying and says how grateful he is for Michael’s forgiveness. Kit also asks Michael to look after his parents, and Michael says he might move to LA, which Kit isn’t surprised by and is okay with. Michael feels a sense of relief knowing he has Kit’s blessing of sorts, to go to LA.
This is in the movie as well, but it plays out just a little differently.
In the book, we don’t see Michael going to LA in the end, but we know he does based on that conversation.
Anyway, in the book Kit is getting worse and worse and he also starts to get dementia, which again, was just so heartbreaking.
It gets to the point where they know he will go any time and they say their goodbyes and Michael tells Kit that it will be hard, but he will be okay.
The book also talks about afterwards, when he goes to Kit’s apartment and clears out his stuff. And book and movie show the funeral.
In book and movie, the guy Kit had slept with also comes by to see Kit. Michael was the gatekeeper to all of Kit’s guests, but he decides to let the guy come by because he knows Kit would like to see him. In both he gives the two of them some time alone, before walking the guy to the elevator where the guy breaks down and thanks him for letting him see him and says how luckily Kit is to have him.
Very end of book
The last chapter of the book is a sweet but sad scene where we go into the future 20 years and Michael and Kit own a store and it is Christmas Eve and they are talking with the last customers because closing up for the night and going on a walk with their dog before going in to wrap presents. The future Michael dreamt they would one day have, but never did.
Other random changes
Just a few things I wanted to mention real quick before closing out. In the book they have a cat named Mister Scooch who was a big part of the story in a way, yet he wasn’t in the book at all.
In the book they also have one last therapy session but the therapist comes to their home for it and it was again, a sweet, poignant scene.
In both, Michael starts to drink a lot of wine every day, while Kit smokes pot and both resents the other for their substance of choice. But at one point, they stay in a hospital overnight and so Michael doesn’t have wine. When they get back home, he decides to go longer without it. It gets to the point where he decides he doesn’t want to drink wine anymore and wants to face life head on basically and not really on something to dull the senses.
Book vs Movie
Even though I liked this movie pretty well, the book was just so amazing! The book wins for sure and it is one I would highly recommend! The movie is PG-13, but the book is more adult because there is more sex talk, including non-explicit talk about Kit’s sex toys as well as a fair amount of swearing. So if you are going into the book after seeing the movie, just be aware it is more adult.