What perennially online person in this day and age hasn't thought, at least once, of starting a podcast, regardless of whether they actually have something to say? Enter Lennon Gates (Sylvie Mix), who may actually have some thoughts worth putting on the record at the beginning of Poser. But, as the film unfolds, increasingly complicated layers are revealed, both about Poser's protagonist and the irony-laden malaise that permeates the local scene through which she moves like a ghost. However, some of these layers may be missed. Poser is an unfocused but piercing send-up of the youthful search for identity, taking aim at podcasts, indie music culture, female friendships, and obsession. While it ultimately reveals everything too late, the film still feels fresh and, unlike plenty of what is released today (on podcasts and in theaters), actually does have something to say.
Lennon Gates lives in Columbus, Ohio and something seems amiss with her at the start of the film. Spurred by her interest in the local music scene, Lennon starts a podcast where she attends underground shows and interviews local artists. Through this endeavor, Lennon meets Bobbi Kitten, playing a version of herself as the lead singer of the band Damn the Witch Siren. The pair strike up a friendship, with Lennon increasingly fascinated by Bobbi's uninhibited nature and inspired to make her own music. What begins as an innocent enough project slowly becomes something that threatens to unravel Lennon's entire life.
As a character, Lennon is an enigma and while this certainly seems to be on purpose, it doesn't give the audience much to latch onto in the first thirty or so minutes of the movie. Her naïveté is on full display (twice she hilariously uses Google to search "how to start a podcast" and "what is performance art?") and this certainly works to endear her to viewers, especially those who will find it funny that she's starting a podcast in the first place. Writer-director Noah Dixon and co-writer Ori Segev are constantly winking at the audience, knowing full well the level of pretension on display. One of the laugh-out-loud moments of this drily funny film is a montage of artists who come up with outlandish responses as to their musical genre when being interviewed. Some examples: "queer death pop," experimental indie and pop, "I guess I'd just be alternative," and "Junkyard Bop or Family Band. Like if your really strange relative was a band."
Despite this, though, there's a sincerity to Lennon that makes sure she, or the artists, are never the butt of the joke, even when Lennon finds herself forming a new friendship with Bobbi. Bobbi is everything Lennon is not (and maybe wants to be) as the lead singer of a poppy but razor-sharp band with a bandmate who never takes off a garish and terrifying Halloween wolf mask. There's also a love for the local Columbus scene and music in general that shines through in Poser, most notably with its stellar soundtrack (some of which is furnished by Bobbi's own band).
With all its attention to the music scene and Lennon's relationship with Bobbi, which almost becomes Single White Female-esque in its obsession, Poser loses the plot a bit. Its sudden escalation into psychodrama in its latter half feels tonally off from what came before it and a smoother transition from one point to another could've done wonders for the pacing and atmosphere of an otherwise sharp movie. The ending packs a punch, but it would've left a bruise if the groundwork had been laid earlier. Luckily, Poser does some of that work visually, with the camerawork and lighting subtly unsettling. The orange glow lighting the streets of Columbus underscores the suburban ennui of Lennon that stands in stark contrast to the "go get 'em" nature of the artists she interviews.
There's a quietude to Poser that feels antithetical to the noisiness of the world it is portraying, but it's in this tension where the film resides. It's also in this clamor where Poser gets a little lost. But thanks to Mix's confident lead performance as Lennon, the movie manages to stay the course, even when it reaches unexpected points that seem abrupt until they've had time to settle. Poser is most comfortable in this liminal space, which is what helps elevate what could have otherwise been a disjointed effort to something reaching towards greatness.
Poser released in Los Angeles and New York theaters June 17 and will expand nationwide June 24. The film is 87 minutes long and is not rated.