Exes can be intriguing, complicated, and exasperating. And if you let them give you advice on your current relationships, it might be... well... slightly insane. In his new, independently produced feature film, Ex-Girlfriends, Alexander Poe -- who wrote, directed, and stars in it -- captures all this and more. While you may be tempted to dismiss it as a typical "boy chases girl, gets girl, and loses girl again" story, think again. Poe actually delivers a refreshing spin on an old story, with some help from Jennifer Carpenter and Kristen Connolly.
When I clicked play to watch Ex-Girlfriends on my laptop, I wished I was seeing it in a darkened movie house, on a big screen, with some popcorn in my lap and a coke in my hand. But after just a few minutes I didn't care anymore. Ex-Girlfriends pulled me in, made me care about the characters, and, occasionally, dislike them a little. Ex-Girlfriends had me laughing a lot, too, especially when Graham (Alexander Poe), the smart, slightly awkward guy trying to get the girl he thinks he loves back, and Jennifer Carpenter's Kate, who is intense, unapologetically honest, occasionally sweet, and funny as hell, are together on screen, more often than not bickering as only exes can.
One of my favorite lines from the movie comes when Kate barges into Graham's bedroom after learning that she's dating Graham's ex-girlfriend's boyfriend. When they argue because he's less than sympathetic, she says, "Why don't you just say you're sorry and buy me a bagel -- and then you can follow that up with an apology for not wearing any pants around me."
In some respects Ex-Girlfriends reminds me of a romantic comedy from the '40s or '50s, but with a very distinct and relevant modern edge. This isn't all that surprising, since Poe has been partially influenced by old movies featuring legends like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. He also has a love of Woody Allen movies, something he says he and Carpenter bonded over during their first meeting; it's an influence that you can definitely see as he weaves his story.
So unlike many of the movies produced today, there's no sex, no one gets naked -- there isn't even any actual kissing. Yet, truth be told, I didn't miss it, nor did I even notice its absence until the next day while walking home after seeing The Sessions -- a very sex-in-your-face movie that made me think about Ex-Girlfriends in a different way.
There is a sexy almost-kiss between Graham and Laura, played by Kristen Connolly, whom you might know from the feature film The Cabin in the Woods and appearances on TV series' like The Good Wife. Connolly and Poe actually went to Columbia University together and know each other from the New York City theater scene, so friendship, along with a killer script, got her on board.
When I caught up with Poe later that day, we chatted about his reasons for leaving sex out of the Ex-Girlfriends equation, and why it isn't your typical boy-chases-girl movie. He said his focus was actually on Graham's coming of age, but not in terms of his sexuality or even romance per se. Instead, Poe wanted to take him on a journey that would lead him to the realization that at the end of the day, he wanted a relationship with a whole person, not just his "idea" of who that person is, whether that relationship is with a lover or a friend. How refreshing and on par with one of my favorite Jonathan Frazen quote's, "Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart's revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are."
Anyone who's seen Carpenter in Dexter lately knows she's having a breakout season, with Dexter's writers and director taking her character out of the shadows and giving her a compelling and meaty storyline, thereby putting her on even footing with Dexter. The audience really gets to see what she can do, and she delivers. Her choice to do Ex-Girlfriends, in which she plays Graham's best friend and former girlfriend, provides her with the same kind of role, and she delivers here too.
Naturally, I was wondering how Poe managed to get Carpenter on board, given his shoestring budget. The story behind it gives you insight into Poe as a director and producer, and Carpenter as an actor. A week before shooting, his leading lady dropped out of the project because she had landed a role in a sitcom. So now what? Well, Kristen Connolly's manager, who was a believer in Ex-Girlfriends, stepped in with a list of actresses who might be right for the role -- and the list included Carpenter.
Poe says that it seemed a little bit like a joke that while he "couldn't really afford to rent cameras at that point," he did some creative Kickstarter-type fundraising to make that happen -- he had a list of talented and well-known actresses interested in being in his movie. Having no shortage of balls, Poe -- who's a Dexter fan -- approached Carpenter.
Still limping a little after completing the New York City Marathon, Carpenter met with Poe about the project -- and she was in. From their first meeting, when she talked about an artic adventure she wanted to have, Poe says he knew she was going to be a trooper while filming his movie -- guerilla-style. And according to Poe, she didn't disappoint, jumping easily into the project and bringing with her professionalism, great comedic timing, and a good dose of fun that made her a pleasure to work with.
"Guerilla-style" is no exaggeration -- actually, it's something you see being done on New York City streets a lot these days. Poe and his crew actually filmed in Grand Central Station without a permit, using a 5D camera that looks a bit like a still camera. It allowed them to shoot under the radar, until they drew attention, and then moved on to another spot. (And now, when you see those scenes shot with a shaky camera that gives them a slight documentary-like quality, you'll know why.) They also filmed in his West Village apartment, which his landlord was not thrilled about, shutting down production, only to have the team sneak back in later to finish up.
Ex-Girlfriends is opening in NYC on November 28th at the Village Cinema, but you can also check it out on VOD and iTunes, starting November 30th. Either way it should be on your Christmas "must see" list.