It’s been a long road for Portrait of a Serial Monogamist. Christina Zeidler’s debut feature (co-helmed by long-time friend John Mitchell) had its first spark more than three years ago. The pair were gabbing over beer and Zeidler (who’d already made several shorts) was discussing her frustration with conventional rom-coms.
“I always find myself relating to the lead male character, the sort of funny and charming yet emotionally immature man,” Zeidler says. “I was saying how I’d really love to see a woman in that position because women are usually the object of affection or they’re somehow perfect. John really loved that idea and we made a little pinky swear that we’d find a way to do it.”
After a seemingly endless parade of fundraisers, photo teasers and trailers, the film finally had its premiere at Inside Out in 2015. Since then, it’s screened dozens of times at festivals around the globe. This week it finally returns to home turf when it begins a limited engagement at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema.
Portrait centres on Elsie (Diane Flacks), a 40-something TV producer who’s never been single a day in her life. She decides to ditch her girlfriend Robyn (Carolyn Taylor) in the hopes of enjoying a period of prolonged singledom. But when she meets Lolly (Vag Halen’s Vanessa Dunn) her quest for solitude begins to crack.
The result is not only a delightfully well-crafted lesbian rom-com but a potential queer film classic. Beyond that, Portrait also serves as a poignant look inside the world of contemporary queer courting. While the olden days often meant needing to learn about an underground bar or getting an invite to a private party, the plethora of options for queers in a city like Toronto these days can actually make things harder. With all options at our fingers it can be tough to sort the good from the bad. Portrait sifts through the clichés and jokes to function as a mini-list of lesbian dating do’s and don’ts.
(Marina Cordoni Entertainment)
“The dating advice in the film comes mostly from the other characters,” Zeidler says. “You have the perpetually single person pressuring her to be alone. There’s the power couple that are saying get back together. And then there’s the mother who’s worrying she’ll be alone for the rest of her life. In terms of ways to meet women, I think the film explains the ins and outs of the dog park pretty well. There’s a part about the problems with online dating. We actually had a dodge ball scene but we took it out. And then there’s the joke about not doing volunteer work as a way to meet people since it’s the biggest hookup scam around.”
Elsie’s struggle to find love is an experience that’s only a distant memory for Zeidler. Happily partnered for more than 20 years, she admits she’s not a great source of tips on how to score. But having spent so long with the same person, she does have some thoughts on what it takes to make a relationship last beyond the first three dates.
“Honestly it’s just about getting over yourself,” she says. “You project so much onto your partner and there’s a certain point in the relationship where you really see the other person for who they are and it’s much more pleasurable to be in. That’s probably the best advice I can give for anyone who wants to make a relationship last. But obviously, nobody can do it perfectly.”
(Top story image credit: Marina Cordoni Entertainment)
(Editor’s note: Portrait of a Serial Monogamist at the Carlton Cinema has been held over until Feb 25.)