Poser is set in Columbus, Ohio, but the sort of indie music scene it depicts will be familiar to anyone who grew up in a moderately sized city. They all have a neighborhood where the buildings are crumbling and the rents are cheap, allowing artists and musicians to flourish in drafty performance spaces, copious warehouse parties, and clouds of assorted smoke (at least before the trendy reputation and subsequent gentrification hits).
Lennon (Sylvie Mix) works for a catering service during the day, and at night hangs out at the fringes of the local artistic community. She’s too shy to really engage with the people she meets, instead recording performances and overheard conversations on her phone. Trying to force herself out of her comfort zone (and toward the music career she dreams of), she starts a podcast to document the underground scene and the up and comers within it. In the context of interviewer, she can interact with the people she admires, rather than her usual wallflower mode.
Each segment of the film is broken up into the currently faddish chapter structure, here called “episodes” as they open with Lennon’s mumblecore observations on that week’s topic. The first third of the film skirts dangerously close to parody of early 00s hipster culture. Lennon loves to ramble on about “honesty” and “authenticity” while she cribs lyrics from each interview subject into her own notebook. Her digital recordings get transferred to analog tape, for nothing more than the twee of it all. The bands she interviews describe their music in Mad Libs style self invented sub subgenres.
Lennon’s various lonely duplicities finally give her the confidence to vie for the attention of Bobbi Kitten (playing a fictionalized version of herself) the front woman of her favorite local band, Damn The Witch Siren. With worshipful adoration and a leaning tower of lies by omission, she manages to befriend Bobbi. Lennon’s adoration for Bobbi’s carefree confidence is clearly lopsided. Does Lennon want to be BFFs with Bobbi, be with her, or just be her, full stop?
Debut co-directors Noah Dixon and Ori Segev have a background in music videos, and it shows. They have a knack for capturing the neon grunge of late nights and afterparties, Lennon’s face carefully framed in close up as the magic of the music washes over her. You can almost smell the sweat and taste the cheap well liquor as bands pour their hearts out on stage for small crowds and a cut of the door.
Poser has polished visual style to spare, and as would be expected from such a musically fueled film, a great soundtrack of buzzy local acts to accompany it. Appearing as themselves are previously mentioned dance rockers Damn The Witch Siren, and the melancholy synth pop trio WYD, amongst others. There is more than enough sonic material to make for an excellent compilation/soundtrack album, even if it’s a super limited edition vinyl pressing just to keep things on brand.
Where Poser falters is the script. The film takes too long to establish very familiar territory, both in terms of the incestuous nature of close knit local art scenes, and in Lennon’s unhealthy habit of bolstering her own fragile self image via mimicry (and eventual outright theft) of the creative work and personality traits of others. This is primarily a character study of a character and setting that has already crystallized into trope. We never get much backstory regarding Lennon or her deeper motivations, other than a few sparse scenes of her boring day job and clearly strained relationship with her family.
Sylvie Mix’s performance isn’t terrible, but Lennon is so underdeveloped as a protagonist that it is hard to see any actor really nailing the role. Lennon is never given enough shading in to be the slightest bit sympathetic as an antihero, but is meekly prevented from any high octane villainy for the majority of the runtime. Accordingly, the film stalls out hitting the same basic narrative beats over and over again through the middle section without any real sense of rising tension.
All of this waiting around ends up a showcase for Bobbi Kitten’s abundant natural charisma. Bobbi’s charming presence (and her partner Z. Wolf’s sartorially interesting silence) snatches the film right out from under its top billed star. In a narrative populated by such thinly drawn personalities, even the script’s equally reductive characterization of Kitten as manic pixie dream front woman feels like a glass of ice water on a hot day.
Poser doesn’t fulfill its hinted at thriller leanings until the last 20 minutes of the film, and when it finally does become All About Eve for the VSCO set, it feels like far too little and way too late. A last second injection of Single White Female also fails to land with much emotional heft.
Some of the movie’s pokes at the nature of indie creative scenes seem more pointed mockery than loving homage, the main character is a frustrating blank, and the climax of the film lacks any convincing narrative arc or dramatic weight. Even considering the very slow build in establishing setting, the performance scenes of the featured musicians are rather brief, and are not as effective a musical showcase as they could have been. Poser seems confused in both its thesis statement, and in regard to which audience of moviegoers with which it is attempting to connect.
At what point does imitation stop being flattering? When does curation become culture vulture appropriation? When do derivative works transcend their origin as copies and become a distinct entity in their own right? When even genius steals, what hope is there for the rest of us?
All of the above are interesting questions lurking between the lines of all of the varied textures and tones at play here, and it is unfortunate the movie fails to address any of them beyond their most superficial implications. Like the insult that provides the film its title, Poser falls flat by trying too hard to know everything, without taking the time to fully understand any of it.
Wicked Rating: 5/10
Director: Noah Dixon, Ori Segev
Writer: Noah Dixon
Starring: Sylvie Mix, Bobbi Kitten, Abdul Seidu
Release: June 10th, 2021
Production Company: Loose Films
Runtime: 87 minutes