The idea that a relationship has a sell-by date inevitably crosses everyone’s mind. And in many cases, it rings true. Some couples aren’t always going to mesh perfectly together all the time. Sometimes the date does pass and relationships are no longer at their most ripe, but the passing of that date doesn’t always mean the end. This is the idea that actor Mike Doyle explores in his feature directorial debut, Sell By which screened recently at NewFest.
Doyle, who also wrote the script, crafts a dramatic comedy about marriage, dating, and singledom, and how living in the digital age can strain relationships. By examining the separate lives of a group of friends, Sell By puts each character under a microscope, getting a close-up view on how each individual deals with the chaos that love brings to their lives. There’s Cammy (Michelle Buteau) who’s in a new relationship with a guy she met on Tinder. They’re still into the early stages of getting to know each other when her new beau, Henry (Colin Donnell), drops a bombshell: He’s a homeless man living at a shelter. The struggle of the relationship comes with Cammy’s struggle to set her ego aside and not let Henry’s situation influence how she feels. Then there’s Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) and her husband, Damon (Chaz Lamar Shepherd). They’ve been married for 15 years, and seemingly the most stable relationship of the group, but as with many couples, problems arise when one of the two wants children and the other doesn’t. And there’s Haley (Zoe Chao), the single one of the group, who’s jealous of everyone else and the relationships they take for granted because the 17-year-old student she’s tutoring is the only person who’s in love with her. At the heart of the story, though, is gay couple Adam (Scott Evans) and Marklin (Augustus Prew).
The entire cast delivers, whether comically or emotionally, but the star of the show is Evans by far. This is his movie, as the bulk of the narrative weaves through the cracks in his character’s relationship with his boyfriend of five years. This is a couple who is at two different points in their lives. Marklin is a famous lifestyle blogger, while Adam is getting paid to create artwork for a famous painter named Ravella Brewer (the queen of gay memes herself, Patricia Clarkson in a guest role). The conflict of their relationship derives from Adam’s selfishness: He feels that Malkin should be paying more attention to him, rather than working on his phone or constantly documenting everything he does for his blog. One of the many examples of the digital age affection relationships coming into play. And while they go to couples therapy, it doesn’t seem to work because the real issue stems from the fact that Adam feels he doesn’t measure up to his boyfriend’s rich lifestyle. Making peanuts as a “ghostpainter,” he’s unhappy at where he is at this stage of his life. By writing a character with such negative self-worth, Doyle reminds the audience that you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself.
The dynamic that Doyle creates, produces a film that is relatable in many respects, whether it’s just through one character or all of them. Drowning in Robert Wise’s Pinterest board of apartment aesthetics is a narrative of equal parts wit and sentiment – a touching, funny tale of modern love. Sell By takes the viewer into the home of a crumbling relationship, but shows how both growth and hope prevails.