Monday, November 26, 2012

EX-GIRLFRIENDS: Alexander Poe's fresh, funny rom-com gets a NY theatrical debut; plus a short Q&A with the filmmaker

What a low-key charmer is Alexander Poe. Whether behind the camera (as director), in front of it (as co-star), or in-person (there will be a short Q&A with the filmmaker as an addendum to this post -- if the fellow who promised me the transcript ever gets it to me), he's quiet, intelligent, self-effacing and attractive. And his new film, EX-GIRLFRIENDS -- his first full-length piece after four shorts over five years -- seems remarkably like its maker. A rom-com that takes in the twenty-something set, Mr. Poe's film is about those kids just out of college (or maybe still in grad school) trying desperately but surreptitiously to "connect" romantically, and failing that, as they seem awfully good at doing (Poe's character, in particular), to figure out what's going on and what they really want. It ain't easy. But, then, when has it ever been?

As a fellow in his 70s (who has probably seen, enjoyed or been annoyed by as many rom-coms over the decades as anyone else), TrustMovies finds this genre one of the trickier to keep alive and kicking. That Mr. Poe (shown at left, on above poster and below) manages it so well, and with such a light touch that seldom strains or pushes, is a special joy to see and listen to. Yes, his way with dialog (he's writer and director) is quite delightful. It's "writerly," all right, but as his character, Graham, is a struggling writer (he's a struggling everything), this is quite appropriate. The first big surprise of the movie, in fact, has to do with writing, as we suddenly go from one form of storytelling to another, and is carried off with a good deal on non-showy panache.

Poe's subject, as his title indicates is "exes," and for such a young fellow, this guy seems to have already had his share. Well, why not? He's certainly attractive (those Betty Boop lips, seen two photos above, are eminently kissable, no?), and his very hang-back, indecisive attitude would seem nicely non-threatening to some girls. On the other hand, as we soon learn, these very qualities can also drive certain young ladies nuts: the blond (Liz Holtan) at the cafe table, above, who is in the process of breaking up with our hero, and the brunette below (Jennifer Carpenter), a best-friend who clearly would like a little more of him.

One of the earmarks of a mature male writer (and how few of our more famous, older set -- from the late Mailer to the still living Roth -- seem to exhibit much of this) is how he treats his female charac-ters. Misogyny is never far afield in the work of many men, so what a pleasure it is to report that Mr. Poe treats men and women as equals--equally silly, foolish, mixed-up, likable, and lovable actually.

Even the two-timing fellow (Noah Bean, above) who turns out to be dating two of Graham's exes -- and simultaneously, without either of them knowing it -- when seen up close and personal for a moment or two doesn't come off as all that awful. You kind of like him, damn it. As you do every major and most of the minor characters here. If they register at all, they do so with a confused and lifelike mixture of desire and uncertainty.

The movie has a "narrator," and while this technique is sometimes seen as a kind of "crutch," Poe uses it well and to an interesting purpose. His look at a creative writing class, in fact, is done with a lovely combo of style, charm and just enough satire to make it fun. (The teacher, above, is played by Matt McGrath.)

In the role of the ex with whom our hero most wants to reconnect, Kristin Connolly (above, left) is impressively allusive: beautiful, ethereal, and just out-of-reach. The more we learn about her, however, the more surprisingly human she becomes.

Writing, romance, relationships, love, friendship, bonding and commitment -- they all get a workout here. But as this is done under Mr. Poe's light, bright touch, that workout seems like anything but work.

And filled with locations from bars and lofts to the pier and the High Line (above and below) that will stand out to us New Yorkers, the movie is also lots of fun to view. For a first-time filmmaker to take on writing, directing and starring in his own film might sound like a vanity production. Perhaps the best thing I can say about Mr. Poe's movie is that it smacks of full-fledged talent rather than vanity.

Ex-Girlfriends (from Cinetic Rights Management and FilmBuff), looking very good considering its minimal budget and running a swift, sleek 72 minutes, opens this Wednesday, November 28, in New York City at the Cinema Village and becomes available on VOD and iTunes, beginning Tuesday, November 27.


TrustMovies met Alexander Poe (below) in a little bar-restaurant called The Brooklyneer, across from Film Forum on Houston Street, on a rainy afternoon in mid-November. The filmmaker proved as low-keyed, genuine and charming as the character he plays in his film. We had only a few minutes, so the highlights of those appear below, with TM in boldface and Alexander in standard type....

First off: I loved your movie. You’ve got a such a light touch, which moves the story along easily and cleverly. You were very involved in this movie as writer, director, and star, And when one hears something like that about a new filmmaker, one usually thinks, "Uh-oh: vanity project." But your film is go good that I didn't think that. More impressive, yours is a romantic comedy--which is difficult to do in a new way, don't you think? 

Yeah, it’s like a tight rope on either end.

The rom-com is also one of the most "done" genres, after horror films. But you really put time and work into the writing. Often, you come away from modern rom-coms with a misogynistic feeling. But not your movie.

And that's not a nice or accurate feeling.

What bubbles up in your film is pretty fair, I think.... 

Good. I wanted to approach relationships in a real way that didn’t simply reduce people to one thing or the other. I think that, even with the guy, Tom, who’s ultimately the two timing boyfriend, even the main character likes him a little bit.


I wanted to give people two sides. Graham starts off the story with a notion of what the story is and then places himself as the lead in his own story and narrates it in a sort of way.

That was a wonderful touch when you realize, 15 minutes in, that you’re in a classroom. 

I love movies that have great voice overs. The one I was thinking about for this was Shoot the Piano Player, the great Truffaut movie with second person narration. Also Jules and Jim. I like voice over when it’s not telling you information, but it’s adding on a layer of character. And I think this character is always very much narrating.

You never get away from him, but he’s enjoyable. How much did this movie cost? 

Oh man, this cost so little, but it was hard to scrape it together. We shot basically this SAG ultra-low budget agreement, which is basically anything under $200,000, we were way, way, way, below that.

Which is what? 

Very little.

Like $150, 000?
(Poe's hand moves downward)
 (Poe's hand move farther down.)
(As I recall, this is about where the hand stopped moving....)

What we tried to do is we did a combination of crowd-funding on Indiegogo and getting favors, small, small donations to help us through. It was a small team effort that was the spirit of the whole movie. In a way, having no money is a hindrance, but in a way it’s liberating because you’re not accountable to a studio or investors. You define your terms and you’re such a small production that you can shoot fast. We shot here in this bar, we had a few lights.

I didn't even recognize this bar -- you really made it seem so much bigger than it is! 

We definitely maximized location for sure. It’s nice for my first movie out the gate to focus on the story-telling and the characters rather than having a big production value and stuff like that. The script was a fun one to do as my first film.

There’s a balance between character and plot and it’s only 75 minutes long. And it works! 

I think keeping small allows you to have a lot of time with your actors and focus on performance. I’ve worked on a bunch of giant movies when I was assisting directors and learning the ropes. I assisted a director named Donald Petrie on a movie called Just My Luck, a Lindsay Lohan movie that shot here a few years ago. It was a gigantic production and I learned how a director operates in that context, which was invaluable. Then I worked on Spielberg’s War of the Worlds for this guy Vic Armstrong, who was like the stunt coordinator of all time: He was Harrison Ford’s stunt double for Indiana Jones. So then, to see that type of film process, it was a totally different learning experience. Now, making short films along the same lines and budget levels as this, this is an extension of the student films I’ve done.

Your characters are a bit of a mystery. 

Kristen Connolly’s, in particular, is a bit of mystery.

That’s the way people are. We’re a mystery to ourselves until we’re very old. Maybe forever.

Certainly. Her character starts out as an angelic figure for him, the object of desire he’s pursuing the whole time and by the end he realizes she has more aspects to her than he anticipated.

Yes: And while he thought he broke up with her, she thought she did it with him. Last question, and I always ask this: Is there something no journalist ever asks you but that you've always wanted to talk about.  Here's your chance....

To expound on weighty matters?

Or whatever. Without being bored to death. 

Well, all of this is still such a new and exciting process. You sit with your little laptop editing away through the night with your three compatriots, to be able to see on the big screen. The producer Jennifer Gerber was producer, the AD, the editor, she even edited the trailer. It was that kind of movie where everybody had ten roles. The co-producer did the website and the script design and production design. That’s what was fun about it, there was a communal family feel to it. I want to keep working with those people. But hopefully on the next movie, there will be a little more money.

What do you have up next? 

I have another screenplay that I actually wrote before this. I wanted to choose the script I could shoot for very little money and then take this finished product and try to move on. The other movie is a little more involved. It’s called Right Side.

We'll look forward to seeing it. Thanks so much for your time, Alexander, and for your movie!

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