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Sell By

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Sell By
dir-scr Mike Doyle
prd Mandy Ward, Ellyn Vander Wyden, Mike Doyle , Kaolin Bass
with Scott Evans, Augustus Prew, Kate Walsh, Michelle Buteau, Colin Donnell, Zoe Chao, Christopher Gray, Patricia Clarkson, Brian Marc, Chaz Lamar Shepherd, John Doman, Marilyn Sokol
release US Jun.19 fff
19/US 1h34

walsh buteau clarkson
outfest los angeles


Sell By
This gentle ensemble comedy circles around a group of 30-something characters who are struggling with romantic issues and life plans. Writer-director Mike Doyle gives the film a flippant tone, revealing how people use acerbic humour to cope with problems. The central question is whether all relationships have a sell-by date, and while the story structure feels more than a little predictable, the endings at least feel nicely organic.
In New York, Adam and Marklin (Evans and Prew) are a loved-up couple, although Adam is getting a bit tired of Marklin's Insta-posing stardom. Adam is struggling to pull his weight financially, anonymously painting for famed artist Ravella (Clarkson). As distance creeps between them, they attend counselling together. Meanwhile, their friend Cammy (Buteau) has discovered that her boyfriend (Donnell) is homeless. Haley (Chao) is being pursued by the lovelorn 18-year-old (Gray) she's tutoring. And after 15 years of marriage, Elizabeth and Damon (Walsh and Shepherd) wonder if their relationship has run its course.
While the film's tone is comical, there's a darker dramatic narrative arc in each of the four central story strands. Adam and Marklin are at the centre, honestly working on their connection to each other, which makes the entire film a bit earnest and mopey. And Adam's friendship with Elizabeth is also warm and emotional. By contrast, Cammy and Haley have more humorous plotlines, even as they touch on bigger issues. When they're in the group, things liven up considerably, complete with some silly physical slapstick.

Each of the performances is thoughtful, adding some depth to the film's humorous tone. Evans and Prew play their scenes with earthy realism, quietly depicting both the strong bond between Adam and Marklin and the doubts both are having. Buteau and Chao also add some serious edge to their more broadly funny roles, and the interaction between them is particularly engaging. Walsh is also strong in more of a supportive role, mainly bouncing off the other characters while internalising her own journey.

The movie's messages might be a bit simplistic, even if they're important ones, reminding us to avoid letting petty lies grow within a relationship, and remembering that being single isn't everything it's cracked up to be. But the script has a bracing truthfulness to it, and scenes are strikingly well-played, outweighing the comedy with involving drama. So the way the story and characters explore the need to feel safe within a relationship is intensely resonant.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 21.Jul.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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