People like to tout the virtues of ‘unique’ and ‘misunderstood’ independent cinema, but sometimes a film is independent simply because it wasn’t good enough to obtain funding. The problem then is that curious people like me are unwittingly drawn to pretty bad, unknown, independently made films.
Well, I’m delighted to say that while Portrait Of A Serial Monogamist is not going to rock your world, it’s better and I would say surprisingly sweeter than the average unknown indie.
Elsie, A Charming Bitch
Portrait Of A Serial Monogamist is about Elsie (Diane Flacks), a middle-aged woman who refuses to get dumped by her girlfriends, so selfishly and shamelessly breaks up with them first. What’s great about Elsie is that she’s something of a bitch, but she’s kind of sweet and charming too. So much so that you can see how she gets away with this sort of behaviour. Until now.
The film begins with a montage of Elsie’s break-ups where she explains to us (there is some breaking the fourth wall in this, which I actually kind of liked) what kind of person she is. This preamble ends with her breaking up with her current girlfriend, Robyn (Carolyn Taylor).
The film then focuses on Elsie’s attempt to get together with DJ Lolli (Vanessa Dunn), while Robyn slips in and out, still in a state of mourning. Elsie’s friends side with Robyn and attempt to get Elsie to see the error of her ways. Though this never really works and the narrative is poorer for it.
She eventually realises she was a bit of an idiot but then never really comes to terms with how she is as a person and what her serial monogamy means about her. Is she afraid of getting hurt? Most likely, but she never really considers it or thinks about it. Which is a great shame for the film as it sort of feels like the point is being missed.
How Robyn Works, Where Elsie Doesn’t
Overall the film feels quite shallow, but there are parts where you feel it really working hard. Robyn is a brilliant character. Presented to us at first as just another of Elsie’s girlfriends, as she grows in Elsie’s memory so we become privy to her as a person and what their relationship meant to her.
More than that Carolyn Taylor, who plays Robyn, is superb in every scene she is in. This is not to say that Diane Flacks (who plays Elsie) isn’t also good, but Taylor just has something extra special to work with here.
Why Robyn’s character works and Elsie’s doesn’t might simply be as a result of this kind of narrative. Elsie is selfish, we know this. She’s choosing to avoid her emotions while Robyn is choosing to engage with them. However, it might have something to do with the fact that we feel Robyn emerge and deepen as a character while Elsie just remains the shallow character she started out as. Though maybe this is the way it should be, perhaps the filmmakers want Robyn to be the hero; Elsie certainly isn’t.
I have to hand it to this film, for an independent it’s very well made, and the story (while not very engaging) is entertaining on the whole. The writing, acting, directing is all above par, and despite a few missing reverse shots and a couple of sound dubs that felt a bit unusual, it’s a well-made thing. So I guess the question here is: why isn’t this film being delivered to a greater audience?
Speaking honestly, I didn’t find the narrative very compelling, but the fact of the matter is there’s not much wrong with this film. Sure, I wasn’t gripped by it, but I know some other people would be. So why isn’t this film a bigger deal? Maybe it has something to do with the cast, they’re not well know. That’s always going to have an effect on a film’s selling point. Or does this maybe have something to do with the fact that this a gay love story?
The LGB Love Story
It’s annoying these days to see how films about gay romantic relationships are stacked into two piles. Either it’s film about a gay romantic relationship where someone dies, and someone gets nominated for an Oscar. Or, it’s a film about a gay romantic relationship which is actually quite sweet and/or funny and no one ever sees the film ever. This, I think, is the category Portrait Of A Serial Monogamist falls into.
Whatever problems I might have with it, the fact of the matter is that Portrait Of A Serial Monogamist is one of the few films I’ve seen to treat lesbians just like actual normal human beings. They’re not breaking up straight relationships, they are not token characters, and they certainly don’t die in some kind of tragic way, the women in this film are just normal people. They are sweet, or they are selfish, or they are angry. Being gay isn’t the issue here, falling in love, having friends, working out life, that’s what this film is about.
So many films about gay characters make the whole narrative about being gay. As though someone who is gay wakes up in the morning and contemplates how being gay is going to effect their day and their relationships, et cetera. I don’t doubt it can (there are still a lot of mean, homophobic, people out there), but they are also just people. And by showing us all to be the same may sound like an obvious thing, but it very rarely happens on film. So, kudos to Portrait Of A Serial Monogamist for doing what so many other films haven’t.
There is a lot to like about Portrait Of A Serial Monogamist. The characters are sweet and, on occasion, funny. Though while the film as a whole is well-made, and Robyn is a fantastic character, it falls down when it comes to Elsie. Elsie is an interesting character, but her depths are never explored, she’s never really given a chance to redeem herself. Her lack of development means that the narrative never quite takes off. Which is a shame because Portrait Of A Serial Monogamist could have been something quite special indeed.
What do you think about how LGBT people are represented in film? What are your favourite films where they are presented normally?
Portrait of a Serial Monogamist will be playing in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema from January 22, and will be available from February 6 on a number of digital platforms. Including: iTunes, Vimeo On Demand and WolfeOnDemand.com. It will also be available on DVD via Wolfe Video and other media retailers.