“Portrait of a Serial Monogamist” is “High Fidelity” for lesbians

If you haven’t yet, you’ll definitely come to know a lesbian or two (or six) who is perpetually in a relationship. One ends and another one starts. Maybe you are that lesbian. If you are, sorry, but from the outside looking in, that’s a recipe for laughs. Co-directors/writers Christina Zeidler and John Mitchell caught onto the phenomenon and explored it in their new film Portrait of a Serial Monogamist

The movie centers around Elsie (Diane Flacks), a television producer in her forties who somehow always finds herself restless in her relationships. She’s got breaking up down to a routine, and finding a new girlfriend (like, right away) is just as easy for her. But when she breaks up with her long-term girlfriend Robyn to pursue the latest hot young thing, she sets herself up for a journey of self-discovery. And we get to be with her for the ride.

We spoke with Zeidler, Mitchell and Flacks ahead of the movie’s world premiere.

AfterEllen.com: John and Christina, what drew you to making this particular movie?

Christina Zeidler: I had just re-watched High Fidelity, and John and I were talking about these films that we really like.I was saying how the lead character is always a guy who is a lovable fuck up, but you go with them because they’re funny and charming. I really felt like there was missing in the genre a woman who was a fuck up, but funny and charming, and you go with her.

John Mitchell: So a couple of months went by and then we started talking and decided to make the movie. And then decided to make the character–Christina’s suggestion–a lesbian character.


AE: Christina, you introduced John to the concept of serial monogamy amongst lesbians. Can you dip into that a little bit?

CZ: It’s such a crazy cliché in the lesbian community. It’s fraught. Especially at certain times in your life. Like in your twenties it starts to become obvious, like, “Oh, you’ve dated eight people I know.” It’s like, “What the fuck?!” It starts to become a little pattern. And then some people get into long-term relationships, and so they can say, “Oh, I’m not a serial monogamist anymore.” But then actually as you cross your forties, you see people who break up with a 10-year relationship and get right into another relationship.

POASM Ensemble

AE: Does Elsie always know she’s a serial monogamist?

Diane Flacks: No. I don’t think so. I think she thinks it was time to call it. Like she was doing everyone a favor. I believe she’s quite deluded at the beginning. Not to judge her in a negative way, but I feel like she doesn’t really know. She’s just kind of doing the right thing by everyone and making sure everyone’s taken care of. And then maybe in the back of her mind there was that DJ/barista, who, you know, you really should check out now that it’s over. I think if she really understood it she wouldn’t need to talk to the camera. She could just act out her life. But she can’t. She has to figure something out.


AE: Diane, how do you connect with Elsie?

DF: On a factual level, not at all. But I really love that she tries. I love that she tries so hard. I love that she loves her friends, and she fucks up. We all fuck up. I love that she’s in her forties. And she’s trying to do something new. I don’t think she kind of realizes that she is. She’s making a lot of mistakes. I think she’s got a great sense of humor. And I feel like she’s somewhat of an every woman in a sense. Like whether you’re queer or you’re straight, or you’re male or female, you want love, you want connection, and you’re going to fuck up to get it. And I think she has a good heart. I don’t think she’s trying to hurt anybody.


AE: Staying on that, using the term serial monogamist to describe Elsie, doesn’t that sound a bit too nice? A lot of her exes would probably just call her a jerk. What do you think?

DF: I hope that her exes are evolved enough to say, “Fuck you.” Like I hope in a way. But at the same time, I think we do this. Maybe it’s not unique, but I feel like in a lot of ways lesbians try to remain friends with their exes.

POASM Diane Flacks 

AE: Elsie’s a character that’s selfish and immature, yet totally endearing. How difficult was it to strike that balance?

JM: That was the challenge, was not losing the audience. We wanted the audience to be with Elsie every step of her journey, even if they were disagreeing with her choices. Her behavior is poor, but somehow you understand and sympathize.

CZ: When we were in the early days of writing it, like if you look at High Fidelity or Manhattan there’s a failed professional aspect to these men that is perfectly acceptable and women will date them, but that’s not true with women.It really had to be part of the storyline that she was kind of type A in her work, and really smart and driven and interesting.


AE: Elsie might not be the best girlfriend in the long run, but she has some pretty amazing friends in her life, so she must be doing something right. How important was it to show these other relationships?

JM: Hugely important. So important. We had to show the whole world of the character and her friends and the people she grew up with. Also, we wanted it to be an ensemble piece, which I think it is in a lot of ways.

CZ: Queers don’t live in these–well, for me, they don’t live in isolation. There has been, in my experience, a really beautiful part of learning about a queer community, and that has made all the difference in my life and world. So that’s something that we want to represent on screen–that these characters aren’t living in isolation. They’re living with this world around them.

JM: It’s part of the pleasure of a rom-com too. You’re invited into a world, and you get to know all these people, and you feel like you’re buddies with them by the end of it. Or you’d like to hang out with these people. We wanted to stay true to that part of the rom-com convention, and then also enhance it by making it authentic.

POASM Carolyn Taylor 

AE:  So your world premiere is coming up on May 31 at the Inside Out Film Festival in Toronto. That’s a big moment. Any expectations?

CZ: We’re, like, over the moon.

DF: It’s so exciting. It was such a labor of love for everybody, and especially these guys. They had something in mind that they wanted to do and they were so dedicated to it. And they’ve given their lives to it for all these years.

It’s going to be a community thing. First of all, they’ve showcased Toronto–it’s a love letter to Toronto, and everyone there is going to be like, “Fucking right on.” It is a great city and it makes us feel good about our city. And so many wonderful people in the community are in this movie. It was such a treat everyday to come to that set.

CZ: We hope the film stands up in between all those things. What we see is a film that will go to another place and be compelling because it’s so authentic.


Wolfe Release recently announced that they have acquired the US rights to Portrait of a Serial Monogamist. You can check out the movie’s Facebook page to find out when it’s playing at a festival near you.