April 10, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Mike Doyle
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City, the romantic comedy/drama “Almost Love” has a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American, Asian and Latino) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A close-knit group of friends go through various ups and downs in their love lives and sometimes have conflicts with each other over upward mobility and what it means to “settle.”
Culture Audience: “Almost Love” will appeal primarily to people who like low-key, fairly realistic independent films about love and relationships.
It’s not unusual to do a romantic dramedy that’s set in New York City, but what makes the mostly charming but sometimes slow-paced “Almost Love” different from most romantic movies is that the couple at the center of this ensemble movie just happens to be gay. Adam (played by Scott Evans) and Marklin (played by Augustus Prew) are a couple in their 30s who’ve been living together and have been in a relationship for five years. They love each other but the relationship has hit a rut, and certain things happen in the movie that test whether or not they will stay together.
Meanwhile, the other people in their close circle of friends are also navigating relationship issues. Sassy and single Cammy (played by Michelle Buteau, who has some of the best lines in the film) likes to project an image of being strong and independent, but she’s a lot needier and co-dependent than she would like to admit. In the beginning of the film, Cammy has been dating Henry (played by Colin Donnell) for about three weeks when he makes a surprising confession to her: He’s homeless and is desperate for a place to stay. Although Cammy tells her friends that Henry’s homelessness is a dealbreaker for her, she ends up letting him stay at her place and caters to his every need.
Haley (played by Zoe Chao) is also single, but she’s got a different co-dependent problem. A 17-year-old student named Scott James (played by Christopher Gray), whom she’s been tutoring to help him get into a prestigious university, has a massive crush on her. And to Chloe’s surprise, she’s become emotionally attached and maybe attracted to him too. She doesn’t quite know if her feelings are maternal or romantic, but it’s caused some uncomfortable moments, as Scott James makes it clear that he wants their tutor-pupil relationship to turn into a romance.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth (played by Kate Walsh), who’s about 15 years older than the rest of the group, is like a wise and cynical older sister to Adam, the person she is closest to in the group. Elizabeth has been married to Damon (played by Chaz Lamar Shepherd, who doesn’t have any speaking lines in the movie) for about 15 years. Elizabeth confides in Adam that because she and her husband disagree on the issue of having kids (she doesn’t like or want kids, but he does), this conflict over having children has put a strain on their marriage. Elizabeth privately worries that Damon will leave her for a younger woman of childbearing age.
The heart of the story though is the relationship between Adam and Marklin, who are currently in couples counseling. Adam and Marklin have lost a lot of passion in their romance, they’re not as intimate as they used to be, and Adam is very leery about the idea of getting married. During the course of the movie, viewers find out why their relationship has hit a rough patch. When Adam (an artist who does paintings) and Marklin first met, Adam had the life that Marklin wanted. Although the movie doesn’t go into details, it’s hinted that in the beginning of their relationship, Adam had a rising career as an artist, while Marklin was financially struggling in a low-paying job at a CBD dispensary.
But now, Marklin is the one who makes the majority of their household income, because he’s become relatively famous on social media for being a fashion influencer. (He has a blog called The Detailist, where he’s paid to promote luxury items.) Different scenes in the movie also show how Marklin’s work has taken over his life, such as how he allows constant phone interruptions during all hours of the day and night. Meanwhile, Adam has become the one with the low-paying job and stifled creativity: He’s become a ghost painter for an egotistical successful artist named Ravella Brewer (played by Patricia Clarkson in a hilarious cameo), who takes credit for Adam’s work, which can sell for about $100,000 per painting.
Adam is the type of person who tends to suppress his emotions, but it’s clear that the reversal of his financial fortune is starting to get to him. Even though Adam has sold a house that he inherited in upstate New York, he sometimes has trouble paying his share of the bills. And there’s also some tension over the fact that Marklin often gets recognized in public and puts a lot of his life on Instagram. Meanwhile, Adam toils away in anonymity for not much money.
Elizabeth and some other people in Adam’s life keep telling him that he can do “much better” than what he’s settling for, but Adam tells them that he’s okay with the way things are. (He’s really not.) Whatever happened to stall Adam’s career has obviously taken a toll on his confidence.
One of the best scenes in the movie happens in the last third of the film, when Adam meets up with his father Tommy (played by John Doman) at a restaurant. What happens in the scene explains a lot about why Adam tends to be closed-off to his emotions and is reluctant to get married. (Marklin’s family is not seen or mentioned in the movie.)
Marklin, who tends to be more optimistic than Adam, isn’t exactly a perfect boyfriend either. He’s got a big secret that he’s been keeping from Adam. And he knows if Adam finds out, it could be the end of their relationship. Marklin also takes it upon himself to put a bid on buying their first apartment together, without telling Adam until after the fact. When Marklin tells Adam about it, it causes further turmoil in their relationship, because Marklin didn’t discuss this big decision with Adam. They both know that Marklin would really be paying for the apartment since Adam can’t afford it.
“Almost Love” (written and directed by Mike Doyle) has many comedic elements that primarily have to do with Buteau’s potty-mouthed Cammy character. Although she can be bossy toward insecure Haley, Cammy also has a vulnerable side to her. Elizabeth is also something of a firecracker, especially in a scene at a gallery opening for Ravella Brewer’s latest art, where Elizabeth has a confrontation with Ravella.
There are also some slapstick moments in the film because Adam can be clutzy, but “Almost Love” at times has a low-key, realistic energy in how it presents relationship issues. Couples who are going through problems aren’t always getting into screaming matches at each other. Sometimes the unspoken resentments are the ones that can be the deadliest in a relationship.
The original title of “Almost Love” was “Sell By” (which is the title of the movie in some countries outside of the U.S.), and it refers to whether or not relationships have a “sell by”/expiration date. All of the main characters in the film face decisions to either hold on to someone who’s a love interest or dump the person because the relationship has run its course. Some of the decisions are easier than others.
For the most part, writer/director Doyle keeps the film’s dialogue on point, but it can sometimes veer into hokey territory. For example, in a candid scene where Cammy gives some advice to Marklin, she says a memorable line: “It’s always easy to love someone who’s unavailable. Trust me. You can’t curate your past.” But then seconds later in the same scene, Cammy says something very corny about her personality: “I’m so messy, I need a broom.”
And there are some parts of the movie that are very predictable. However, in a sea of movies that badly handle portrayals of adult romances and friendships, “Almost Love” navigates itself quite well. All of the actors in the movie give good performances, but Buteau is definitely a standout scene-stealer. “Almost Love” is a story that can be relatable to a lot of people, while striking a balance between being emotionally moving and comedically entertaining. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking or fast-paced in this movie.
Vertical Entertainment released “Almost Love” in the U.S. on VOD on April 3, 2020. The movie was released on VOD in the U.K. under the title “Sell By” on March 1, 2020.