It’s comforting to know that Woody Allen’s influence has spread to yet another generation of filmmakers. Alexander Poe’s charming comedy “Ex-Girlfriends” has the New York setting and the self-reflectively ironic take on love and relationships of Allen’s early films, but done on a tiny budget and with a cast of fresh faces representing the Facebook generation.
The most familiar actress is Jennifer Carpenter who plays Deb Morgan, Dexter’s sister, in the Showtime series about the lovable serial killer. I’m not a huge fan of her work on “Dexter,” but in this film, she’s well cast as the aggressively promiscuous Kate, a part that makes good use of Carpenter’s manic irritability. She is a fine foil to Poe’s laconic performance as Graham, the introspective, slightly schlubby guy who is dumped by his latest girlfriend in the first scene.
Graham appears to be a graduate student of creative writing at Columbia, and some of the funniest scenes in the film are the ones that take place in his writing workshop. Poe pokes sly fun at the pretentiousness of the students--granted, an easy target, but still amusing. “He’s essentially failed as a human being,” one student intones after Graham has read a short story clearly based on his own experiences. The film’s wry voice-over narration reinforces a literary distance.
After his girlfriend dumps him over lunch, a despondent Graham goes to a party where he runs into an old flame, Laura. They chat awkwardly for a few minutes and Graham begins to fantasize that this relationship can be renewed, but Laura (Kristen Connolly) says she is seeing another guy, Tom. Graham confides this to his friend Kate, who has her own problems. She’s convinced that her boyfriend Tom is seeing someone else. A dozen texts later, it becomes clear that both Laura and Kate are involved with the same man.
As in Allen’s work, the central character Graham is part of a larger social network -- friends, colleagues, lots of exes, and relatives with whom he is in touch. In most American films, two or three people exist in isolation; their only relationship is with each other. The denser social milieu that Poe creates in “Ex-Girlfriends” gives the film a powerful sense of place and class. These people exist in a real social realm--the upper Upper West Side, Greenwich Village, Hamptons-cottage world of affluent MFA students, young people who are trying to figure out what they want to do, who they want to be, and who they want to be with. A very funny scene has Graham and Kate comparing how many lovers they’ve each had, which devolves into a discussion of the criteria used to define lover. One-night stands don’t count, obviously, but what about a couple of weeks?
Graham and Kate scheme to break Laura and Tom up, or at least to find out what’s really going on. The film has it’s zany moments, but what makes it so winning is Poe’s shrewd, affectionate view of his generational compatriots. “Ex-Girlfriends” is available on VOD and iTunes, and is screening at Cinema Village in New York.