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Sell By

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Oct 21, 2019
'Sell By'
'Sell By'  

Mike Doyle has been a busy actor from decades, appearing on TV in "ER," "Sex and the City," "Law & Order: SVU," and score of other shows, as well as in films as big and mainstream as "Green Lantern" (2011) and as niche as "P/S? I Love You"(2007) and "Max Steel" (2016). He also starred in the LGBTQ film festival gem "Gayby" (2012) and now, in his feature film writer-directorial debut, "Sell By," he takes the helm of a gay rom-com.

Well, gay-ish. "Sell By" revolves around Adam (Scott Evans) and his long-time boyfriend Marklin (Augustus Prew), but it pulls an array of heterosexual friends and acquaintances into the mix. Including Cammy (Michelle Buteau), her homeless boyfriend Henry (Colin Donnell), Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) and her long-time beau Damon (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), and the perpetually single Haley (Zoe Chao), whose pedigree as a graduate of Brown seemingly qualifies her as a coach to college-bound dimwits like the hormonal Scott James (Christopher Gray), who is barely shy of being legal but who's anxious to jump the gun and show Haley just how appreciative he is.

Adam is a painter who labors for low wages as a ghost painter, creating the canvases that a rich and famous artist called Ravella Brewer (Patricia Clarkson, in a limited but well-turned role) will initial and then sell as her own — for $100,000 a pop. Meantime, Marklin's lifestyle website has taken off, bringing him money, acclaim, and more than a few admirers who send him selfies wearing the clothing he writes about... or, sometimes, not quite wearing it. Marklin also has a secret he's been keeping from Adam, and, like all secrets, it's bound to blow up in his face.

Adam, having hit the ripe old age of 36, feels like a failure. His career has stalled; he's having no luck selling his late mother's house, and his fifth anniversary with Marklin feels less like a milestone than a wake-up call that his life is flashing past, and he's barely made anything of it. Could his prospects as an artist — as well as his relationship — have hit a point of no return?

The formula is hardly fresh, and while Doyle finds a few new things to bring to it, those novel aspects have a coy, calculated quality to them. (A mysterious ice cream truck haunts Adam, for instance. The payoff here is meager and though it promises to open into a whole new subplot, it's basically dropped as soon as it arrives.) As a result, it's the tried but true elements that play best: Elizabeth's relationship, like Adam's, is in crisis — a real crisis, in fact, not just the spun-up drama diva crisis Adam makes out of everything. Haley wrestles with just where to draw the line with Scott-James. In the meatiest and real-world relevant B-story, Cammy works out how to balance her attraction to Henry with the concern (and, frankly, contempt) her friends exhibit when they learn that she hasn't broken things off with him — after all, he's homeless and therefore must be a loser, a creep, and/or damaged goods.

But the film only minimally follows up on many of these strands, allowing most of them to evaporate or else offering too-neat, unearned resolutions. Only Adam's self-obsessed antics carry any momentum, and even then there's no real sense that "Sell By" is taking us anywhere specific or interesting.

The characters may feel shallow, hollow, and dull, but the cast does bring them to life, and their goodwill keeps things afloat. Clarkson's delightful cameo is rivaled by Prew's performance, which is naturalistic and possesses a certain effervescence; most of all, there's a sense that everyone is having some fun, and that in turn makes the movie a good — if underwhelming — time.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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