The seven-year-itch arrives a couple of years early for Adam and Marklin in independent romantic comedy “Almost Love.” Could that be because they’re gay men? Adam tries to tamp down that thought shortly after he and Marklin celebrate their fifth anniversary. Maybe it’s because they aren’t yet hitched, even though gay marriage has been an option for more than a decade. Why aren’t they? Marklin asks himself. It’s not that either is stepping out. There’s just a malaise. And then there’s the fact that they — and their coterie of gal pals — are at that age when reassessing love, coupledom and career is common. Whatever is ailing these New York City friends, it isn’t compelling enough to help writer-director Mike Doyle’s solid debut outshine the other LGBTQ-inflected offerings it will compete with when it arrives digitally and on demand April 3.
“Almost Love” has the casual yet studied sleekness of the store its group of friends once worked at: Crate and Barrel’s millennial-aimed offshoot CB2. It’s consumable. The cast is fetching in an approachable way. Scott Evans plays Adam, an artist whose career consists of ghost painting for Ravella Brewer (Patricia Clarkson in an all-too-brief turn as the rather fraudulent, gallery-repped artist). How could he not be frustrated when he neglects his own canvasses in the service of a “painter” whose works go for $100,000?
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Augustus Prew is Marklin. In one of the comedy’s finer touches, there’s nothing smug or particularly opportunistic about how Marklin does his oh-so-21st-century gig as a successful influencer. Prew depicts him as just another version of a workaholic. Which doesn’t prevent others — doctors, strangers on the street, a therapist — from fawning. Malkin’s got juice. He’s also got a secret he’s keeping from Adam.
Doyle’s script tests the cheeky and irreverent, mostly with its female characters. The women grapple with their own third-life — give or take — crises. When we first meet Adam’s bestie, Elizabeth (Kate Walsh), she’s riding high on the crest of a 15-year marriage. What will happen if that wave crashes? Haley (Zoe Chao) is a tutor clumsily skirting the dodgy in her relationship with a high-school senior Scott James (Christopher Gray).
Saddled with the comedy’s most troublesome storyline, comedian Michelle Buteau appeals more than appalls as oft-thwarted dater Cammy. Turns out her latest hook-up, Henry (Colin Donnell), lives in a shelter. No matter how the rom-com resolves this setup — and, it will, of course — the movie is going to have to answer for its overly-indulged, queasy gags on homelessness.
Doyle and cinematographer Ludovic Littee offer up a crisp, color-saturated, even spiffed up New York City. (It’s okay to sigh.) The film’s occasional flashbacks to its characters’ sweeter times have an intentionally abstract, romantic warmth. Adam’s visit with his father at a restaurant provides a sense of what else might be weighing on the stymied artist. It comes surprisingly late. Who Marklin’s sneaking off to visit also gets a slow reveal. (Though we can guess.) The flashbacks and the late plot twists hint at skills Doyle may bring to future projects.
One lovely scene finds the guys — after a very, very quiet session with their couples’ counselor — sailing on their bikes through the streets of Greenwich Village. This free moment in dappled sunlight is disrupted by an epithet-hurling jerk. Disrupted but hardly ruined, thanks to Marklin lobbing a fine retort.
The challenge for “Almost Love” (which had been set for a theatrical release, but pivoted to streaming in the wake of the coronavirus) and other films with LGBTQ characters predates our current, lousy moment of hunkering down. Even before on-demand offerings broadened the spectrum, cable had made inroads in representation that put pressure on big-screen tales to be special. (Yes, even those teasing the tried and true romcom genre.) It’s not easy to be special. With “Almost Love,” Doyle proves he has an eye, a sense of pacing and a thoughtful touch with actors. But the “Almost Love” saga is about as distinctive as the canvases Adam paints for Ravella.
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