Mike Doyle’s minor-key millennial character study plays like a polished web series condensed to feature form.
A comedy in a minor-key about what millennials look like once they hit their mid-30s, “Almost Love” presents a tapestry of characters who are all living lives that aren’t fully theirs. Marklin (Augustus Prew, adorable here as he was in Hulu’s “Into the Dark”) is a menswear social-media influencer who documents every minute of his life. His longterm boyfriend Adam (Scott Evans) is a “ghost painter,” meaning he creates watercolors that are then peddled by another woman (Patricia Clarkson) and under her name. Their friend Haley (Zoe Chao) is a tutor for an underachieving teenager who’s in love with her, and her friend Cammy (Michelle Buteau) is unlucky in love, and dating an itinerant homeless man (Colin Donnell) because she has low self-esteem.
There are other characters in the fray in this melancholy, polished, New York-set relationship study that works best when it focuses on one or two people, and writer/director Mike Doyle’s ambition in sketching so many lives almost makes “Almost Love” resemble a web series condensed to feature form. If some of these characters — including Elizabeth, an unhappily married woman in a midlife crisis played by the always game Kate Walsh of “Grey’s Anatomy” — were teased out a bit more, there would be enough material here to justify a serial format.
The emotional center of the movie is anchored by Marklin and Adam, who are now coming up on their five-year anniversary. Anyone who’s been in a longtime relationship knows this is often a crucial turning point for evaluation and self-reflection. Am I who I want to be? Is this who I want to be that person with? Is that all there is, as Peggy Lee so famously asked? Marklin and Adam cycle through these relatable scrutinies, and attempt to stage several cute, Instagram-ready anniversary activities that Marklin is quick to chronicle for his website, The Detailist, which every gay in town can’t seem to stop fawning over. Adam, meanwhile, takes chagrin at his boyfriend’s technological addiction, feeling adrift and empty in his own life creating artwork for a fame-grubbing art diva. (Clarkson is perfectly in this otherwise stereotypical role in a brief second-act scene.)
Marklin and Adam aren’t exactly planning on getting married, and they aren’t having children either, despite the heteronormative agendas playing out amongst their friends. But everyone is looking for security, and that especially includes Haley, hilariously played by Chao, who delivers such biting, millennial-tailored lines like, “I’ve never owned a dog. I can’t keep a succulent alive. I don’t want them to find my body someday under a pile of New Yorker magazines and cat hair and takeout containers.” Any urban-dwelling early-30something in American can probably taste the bitter sting of truth to a reasonable fear like that.
This small-scale indie is impressively scored by Dabney Morris, and shot on digital by Ludovic Littee, a cinematographer on “Orange Is the New Black” who also served as a camera assistant on Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.” Littee must have had learned a thing or two about profiling disintegrating couples on those films. Spliced into a scene of unexpected violence involving a drinking game gone awry and fraught with traumatic meaning, a heartbreaking montage in “Almost Love” shows the Marklin and Adam of the past, deliriously happy and in love, smashed against their messy present. It’s not unlike a scene in “Blue Valentine” where Michelle Williams stares longingly at a young, beautiful, and vibrant Ryan Gosling, only to smash-cut to his beer-bellied, sad-sack dopey father of the present.
In these trying times, you generally can’t go too wrong with “Almost Love,” a film where, for the most part, everyone is nice to each other and just trying to be a good person. But the third act becomes a pile-up of soap-operatic incidents that try too hard to advance plot arcs — including Marklin’s secret relationship to a dying man in a hospital whose identity is revealed late into the film — that are less interesting than the spiky, perky characters at their center. And unfortunately, many ends that would otherwise be left loose in real life are tied too neatly into a tidy package in the last few minutes of the movie. Still, seeing people tear each other down is probably not what the world needs right now.
“Almost Love” premieres on digital and VOD on Friday, April 3.