The new indie comedy “Ex-Girlfriends” opens in a Columbia classroom with its protagonist, Graham, played by writer-director Alexander Poe, telling an original story to his creative writing class. But his students think the character in the story—based on Graham himself—does not know who he is and is clearly lonely.
These classroom scenes set the tone for the rest of the film, as the twenty-something struggling writer attempts to create a satisfactory narrative of his life with mixed results.
A 2010 graduate of the School of the Arts’ MFA program in film, Poe said much of the film is a comic adaptation of his experiences at the University. But the film’s main focus is Graham’s past romantic relationships.
Heartbroken, he enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend Kate (Jennifer Carpenter) to win back another ex, Laura (Kristen Connolly), after he discovers a man has been cheating on Laura with Kate. In a noteworthy scene, he and Kate list the number of partners they’ve had on napkins and the count reaches 25 for both.
Graham’s obsessive romanticization is his fatal flaw, Poe said. “He’s constantly looking for a relationship to solve his life problems,” he said.
Despite budget constraints, the film boasts two up-and-coming actresses as Graham’s former flames. Kristen Connolly, the scream queen in “The Cabin in The Woods,” plays Laura, and Jennifer Carpenter, of “Dexter” fame, plays Kate. While Poe knew Connolly from his days at Middlebury College, casting Carpenter was a happy accident. The actress originally set to play Kate dropped out a week before the shoot. When Poe saw the final list of available actresses, which included Carpenter, he was wowed.
“I saw the list and I was thinking, ‘I can’t even afford to rent some lights, and you’re telling me that these Hollywood actresses will be in my film?’” he said.
Poe more than holds his own against these established stars on-screen. His self-pitying conclusion that his girlfriend is no longer into him after she offers to get him coffee, rather than a drink, lands him somewhere between Woody Allen and Tobey Maguire on the quirkiness spectrum.
But acting alongside these two stars was easy for Poe, he said.
“They give you so much,” he said. “They’re so on the spot the whole time that I think they raise everybody else’s game.”
The film also features a distinctly New York flavor, as B-roll of the George Washington Bridge and the High Line provide backdrops for the characters’ relationship woes. But the film sticks to two primary NYC settings—the West Village and Columbia—rather than following the characters all around the city.
“I hate movies where someone leaves a bar on the West Side and in the next scene shows up in SoHo,” Poe said. “We just sought out places nearby that could capture the iconic New York feel to give the film some grounding.”
With an SoA-centric creative team—the film’s producer-editor, Jennifer Gerber, and its cinematographer, Gregory Kershaw, are both current students—Poe hopes to screen the film at Columbia as it makes its rounds on the festival circuit. The film has already found some critical success, winning Best Film at the Big Apple Film Festival held at Tribeca cinemas, as well as being accepted to the Austin Film Festival.
“Ex-Girlfriends” begins its theatrical run on Nov. 28 in the Cinema Village on 22 E. 12th St. It will be available on the same day for purchase on iTunes and on-demand movie programs.