Most romantic comedies focus on those initial magical months of a relationship: from the meet-cute to the first kiss, with a little bump in the road to neatly pave over before the star-crossed lovers happily settle into life as a unit. But director Mike Doyle’s new rom-com, Sell By, stands out for skipping right over the honeymoon phase and instead exploring the uncomfortable moment a few years into a relationship when the spark is gone and it’s time to decide if it’s worth moving forward or if it’s the end of the line.
The ensemble comedy’s main couple is Adam (Scott Evans) and Marklin (Augustus Prew), boyfriends of five years who are still in love but struggle to connect in the way they did at the beginning. Doyle says he wanted to push gay films ahead a bit by moving beyond the coming-out stories and tales of battling adversity and placing his characters in a time when they’ve already dealt with all that and are now just dealing with each other.
“I wanted to show how the struggles of being in a relationship and the work that has to be done to keep a relationship alive and not expiring are universal for gay people and for straight people,” Doyle told NewNowNext ahead of the film’s Outfest screening this past weekend. “What fascinated me is how seemingly strong relationships can get killed and suffer a death by a thousand cuts. There are these minor infractions that ultimately build up and tip the scale.”
Evans, who recently appeared on the latest season of Grace and Frankie, said that the idea of introducing the story in the middle of a relationship is part of what attracted him to the script in the first place. “There are not really movies out there where it’s just starting at that five-year point and you miss all the happy stuff and you’re at the point of asking, ’Are we supposed to be together?’” Evans said. “You keep missing each other in a relationship, and it doesn’t get talked about, but you just get comfortable. You turn into roommates.”
Starting the story half a decade into a relationship isn’t the only thing that distinguishes Sell By, which also stars Kate Walsh and Patricia Clarkson. There’s also the fact that its two leads are gay men, something fans of the genre rarely get to see.
“Growing up, any time I’d see any LGBTQ representation on the screen it was always the assistant, the gay flamboyant best friend—that was our representation,” Evans told NewNowNext. “I feel like I never really saw myself.”
Evans added that the movie takes things one step further by making gay men the main narrative without having it focus on their sexual identities. Still, Doyle thinks writing for two men in a relationship lent itself to exploring some unique experiences that gay couples sometimes go through.
“I think, because we are socialized from a very early age to be achievers and leaders and winners, that when you have two people who are both the alphas in a relationship that things change within that dynamic,” Doyle said, explaining that one person can be emotionally, financially, or professionally stronger at one point, but that it ebbs and flows. “I think that between two men, the power dynamic shifts during the course of a relationship. So I wanted to explore that and what difficulties arise as a result.”
Sell By screened at Outfest on July 20 and 21 in Los Angeles.