“Do you like music?” a rando asks Lennon Gates (Sylvie Mix) at one point in “Poser,” something which should be self-evident from the fact she’s holding her iPhone up like a tray to capture the songs at the party they’re at. But even the slightly strung-out stranger can see there’s something amiss about what Lennon would claim to be passionate about, with the headphones that are snugly affixed to her head appearing as if it they’re there more to prevent from within from getting out rather than letting the sound of anything else in. Having no real sense of self, only a nagging conviction that she’s incapable of anything original, she’s taken to recording others, both surreptitiously and in more concerted interviews where she can get them for her fledgling podcast, trying to understand the creativity that eludes her and at times, trying to pass it off as her own.
If the feeling of defeat that Lennon has of having everyone else around her being more talented than she is really settles in, it’s because co-directors Noah Dixon and Ori Segev have so thoroughly populated the world around her with actual artists from the underground music scene in Columbus, Ohio, all taking themselves far less seriously than the film’s main character does. It’s one delicious irony of many in the biting satire that is an impressive showcase for a truly exciting collection of artists while telling a story of someone with a deep case of imposter syndrome amidst countless acts that are fooling themselves with pretentious ideas about their art. With bands touting their music as “junkyard bop” and “queer death pop,” it’s easy to dismiss Lennon’s pursuit as silly, but there’s something there to the actual songs just as there is to the podcaster’s determination to get at what’s real, putting her in league with a crowd that’s all chasing something yet as they strive to be unique, she’s looking to fit in.
Working late night shifts in the back of a kitchen washing plates to spend her days at record shops and gigs she can take some small pleasure in knowing are unadvertised, Lennon stumbles into opportunity when a former podcast guest vouches for her at a party to come upstairs and smoke with Bobbi Kitten, the lead singer for Damn the Witch Siren (a real band). After the joint wears off, Lennon’s still riding high, believing her proximity to the artist has to say something about her own talent, but as she and Bobbi begin to have an actual relationship, “Poser” does a brilliant job of showing the limits of its lead’s imagination, not only preventing her from doing what Bobbi could on stage, but curtailing any hope of a genuine friendship when the appearance of a connection is more meaningful to her than the connection itself.
The film’s dry sense of humor and its vacuous protagonist could spell disaster in the wrong hands, but Mix gives a compelling central performance soft-peddling the benign evil of ambivalence, inflicted on herself when few fail to take as much of an interest in her as she projects onto them and the lack of concern she has for slipping their ideas into her own, and Dixon and Segev create a world you can’t help but get swept up in, even with all its absurdities. Not only do all the real musicians in the film acquit themselves well as actors, the propulsive soundtrack they provide in contrast with Adam Robl and Shawn Sutta’s gorgeously undulating score and Logan Floyd’s beautifully subdued cinematography gives film a solid core that makes Lennon’s quest understandable if terribly misguided. “Poser,” on the other hand,” is really onto something.