‘Almost Love’ lazy romance with problematic elements

‘Almost Love’ lazy romance with problematic elements

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Actor Mike Doyle makes his feature directorial debut with “Almost Love,” a sprawling, languid sort of look at love and relationships in New York City. It’s a film that purports to be about “romance in the smartphone era,” though there’s really not much of substance about smartphones, except that the characters take a lot of Ubers and one person is an influencer. The problems the characters face are age-old frustrations of finances and fidelity, and they’re about as riveting as they sound.

“Almost Love” does sport a winning cast: Scott Evans and Augustus Prew costar as the main couple around which a collection of dizzy, daffy pals orbit. Marklin (Prew) is the aforementioned influencer, while Adam (Evans) makes his money as a ghost-painter, creating works of art for a famous artist to sign and pass off as her own. It’s a testament to Patricia Clarkson’s sheer magnetism that her cameo as said artist, fumbling for answers to lofty questions about her inspiration, is one of the most entertaining moments of the movie. Or perhaps it’s rather a testament to how tired and flabby the whole story feels.

Adam and Marklin bicker about money and their future while they tend to the needs of their pals, the excessively needy Elizabeth (Kate Walsh), having marital problems of her own, and Cammy (Michelle Buteau), whose latest dating crisis is that she’s started seeing a man, Henry (Colin Donnell), who confesses to being homeless. Poor Buteau, always a warm and welcome presence, is saddled with this truly cringeworthy subplot, in which a man’s unfortunate housing situation (in one of the most outrageously expensive cities in the world) is played for dating woes yuks. The whole comedic portrayal is utterly humiliating, with Henry constantly shoveling down large portions of food whenever he gets it, constantly mentioning shelter “lockouts,” and muttering about “property.” The worst part is the suggestion that there’s something wrong about the sexuality of a houseless person (Cammy wails to a friend in anguish, “I slept with a homeless!”), which is so utterly dehumanizing. It feels like the most bootleg episode of “Sex and the City,” but that show would have handled an issue this thorny with some modicum of grace.

Not helping matters is Zoe Chao as Cammy’s ditzy friend Haley, who turns up her nose at her friend’s houseless boyfriend while entering into a bizarre psychosexual encounter with the high school senior she tutors. Every subplot that spins out from the Adam/Marklin center of the universe has a strange sort of forced, affected humor, unsuccessfully willing you to get on board with these “wacky” yet oh-so-predictable hijinks.

The core story feels grounded in a way that the other characters don’t, thanks to the performances by Evans and Prew, who bring a real sense of affection and authenticity to their characters. Evans in particular, is a standout, even when he’s tasked with some drunken antics involving an ice cream truck. There’s a big mystery and misunderstanding at the center of it all, but the way it unfolds is just a slog. After awhile, you’re ready to break up with all these people too.

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