Sell By


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Patrician Clarkson and Augustus Prew in Sell By
"There's a comedy of misunderstanding underlying all this as well as more overt comedy as the friends banter with one another and are forced to deal with some of the consequences of their hypocrisy." | Photo: courtesy of Sell By Film

If there's one thing to be said for the British class system it's that at least, where most people are concerned, it puts a ceiling on their ability to feel socially superior to others. The US attempt to substitute for class with money leads to a constant jockeying for position and an insecurity about social status that encourages both self-hatred and the bullying of others. Mike Doyle's sly comedy about the messy relationships of six thirtysomething New Yorkers has both of these in spades. Its awkward protagonists, confused as to why life isn't working out for them the way it was supposed to, invite a kind of sympathy previously reserved, in cinema, for much younger characters.

It begins with Cammy (Michelle Buteau), who is quite taken with new boyfriend Henry (Colin Donnell) but nervous because he has something big to tell her. What could it be? Is he seriously ill? Is he in a monogamous relationship with someone else? Is he simply about to dump her? No. It's that he's homeless. She's not horrified enough by this to stop sleeping with him but she is horrified enough to slag him off continually behind his back and invite all her friends to mock him as well.

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This little bubble world in which nothing really bad ever happens to anyone who counts has one outsider. Marklin (Augustus Prew), the most financially successful member of the group, has an ex-boyfriend who is dying from a terminal illness. He's there to support him as much as possible but keeps it secret from all of the others, including long-term partner Adam (Scott Evans), a if it were a terrible betrayal. Adam, sensing his remoteness, begins to suspect infidelity, and neither has the communication skills to deal with the gradual weakening of their relationship. It's already under strain because Adam, as an artist (who mostly paints on behalf of a more famous name, portrayed by Patricia Clarkson in a gloriously lush cameo), isn't earning much and doesn't want to depend financially on someone else. Trying to buy him things to cheer him up, Marklin inadvertently makes the problem worse.

There's a comedy of misunderstanding underlying all this as well as more overt comedy as the friends banter with one another and are forced to deal with some of the consequences of their hypocrisy. Feeling left out by their various dramas, Cammy's friend Haley (Zoe Chao) flirts with the idea of allowing herself to be seduced by a teenage student, in part so that she'll have a shocking tale of her own. There's a sense that they are al (Marklin aside) somewhat resentful of the orderliness of their lives. John Doman turns up in a cameo as Adam's father, one of several members of the older generation who clearly has a problem with alcohol, and a drinking game gone wrong suggests that our protagonists are not really much better a handling it. Can they get to grips with life before it's too late? Can Marklin and Adam save their relationship? Can any of them develop an ounce of self awareness?

Energetic yet angsty, Sell By offers a viewer experience a bit like babysitting a six-year-old - charming in places, certainly funny, but also exhausting and liable to try one's patience. By the time it's over you'll want to wash your hands.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2019
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A couple find their relationship coming under strain while dealing with career issues and the tangled lives of their friends.

Director: Mike Doyle

Writer: Mike Doyle

Starring: Michelle Buteau, Scott Evans, Augustus Prew, Zoe Chao, Colin Donnell, Patricia Clarkson, John Doman

Year: 2019

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US

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