Sometimes I wish movies about aspiring New York writers and their mundane romantic travails could somehow be converted into a renewable energy source. If that innovation were to occur, the stunningly indistinct Ex-Girlfriends might actually prove useful. The protagonist is Graham (played by writer-director Alexander Poe), the classic dipshit these films always posit as a quasi-sympathetic hero. A struggling writer and an intolerable narcissist, he’s still irresistible to the ladies, who seem to swoon under the force of his banal observations on men and women, most of which are eclipsed in wit and profundity by any random rerun of Friends. Graham is still adrift and unhappy because he’s recently been dumped by his girlfriend in a coffeeshop, in a moment, rife with lame one-liners, that every viewer has seen dozens of times before. In response, Graham tries to win prior girlfriend, Laura (Kristen Connolly), back, and discovers that she’s dating the same guy as yet another of his exes. That ex, Kate (Jennifer Carpenter), is still friendly with Graham, so the two conspire to break Laura and the mystery dude up so everyone can theoretically end up with the right lover.
It would appear that Poe is attempting to parody aspiring youthful erudition in a fashion that resembles the early films of Noah Baumbach, who, even at his meanest, normally holds his characters in perspective. In Mr. Jealousy, which is a model for Ex-Girlfriends, Baumbach satirizes his characters without compromising his affection for them. Poe, on the other hand, conveys a creepy sense of self-love that eclipses everything else. One scene appears to have been conceived for no other reason than to allow his character to brag about the number of women he’s slept with, and another affords him the opportunity to insist upon his talent to his writing class (or the viewer), a ploy that backfires from the inescapable awfulness of what we’ve heard (in voiceover) of Graham’s writing.
The romantic quest that’s meant to drive the film is meaningless because Poe has extended empathy to no one besides himself; the women are portrayed, typically, as the types that vary from aloof hottie to cool hottie you can down bourbon with in the middle of the afternoon. Poe even seems to miss that this exact plot was once used in an episode of Seinfeld nearly 20 years earlier. And that show, which also managed to exhibit a sane perspective toward its characters, had the good manners to be funny.