Stylish and insidery, “Poser” is enthralled by Columbus, Ohio, particularly its burgeoning independent arts and music scene. It’s a sophisticated, if not cold-to-the-touch psychodrama of elegant visuals and innovative tunes, which debuting co-directors Ori Segev and Noah Dixon (who also scripted) beguilingly steer as a cheeky yet gradually darkening ode to their adoptive city.
So it’s all dimly lit underground clubs, highbrow art gallery corners, gritty warehouses and edgy concert venues here, with an array of impossibly unruffled, coolly clad artists and musicians doing their hip thing with ease. Frankly, their company feels a bit intimidating at first, especially if you are the more mainstream sort not actively pursuing a sampling of alternative music. But thanks to Segev and Dixon’s joint confidence, you feel just comfortable enough within the bowels of the town’s unique indie scene next to ombre-haired Billie Eilish types, even if the film doesn’t always welcome you in.
So consider it an act of generosity by the filmmakers that someone equally on the outside leads the way into “Poser,” making you feel a little less alone as you find your feet within this fascinating counterculture. Her name is Lennon Gates (Sylvie Mix), a wannabe artist/musician dwelling on the fringes of the world she so desperately wants to belong to that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to make it. Working at a dead-end job as a maid by day, she possesses a chilling, double-edged obsession for things out of her reach, the destructiveness of which we’ve seen many times before in the likes of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and, more recently, “Ingrid Goes West.” The moment Lennon, portrayed by Mix in an unnerving performance that blends wide-eyed awe and alarming apathy, googles, “How to start a podcast,” you somehow sense that she’s up to no good.
For some time though, we can’t quite get inside her head. That’s because instead of building the fake-it-till-you-make-it Lennon with any kind of complexity on a micro level, Segev and Dixon dive head-first into the dizzying macro universe that surrounds her. Fortunately, they have some fun with this navel-gazing mode. Through entertaining, snippily assembled sequences (the duo handled editing duties themselves) during which Lennon records her podcast, we get acquainted with various bands, from “WYD” to “Son of Dribble,” and hear from an idiosyncratic bunch that soulfully speak straight into the camera, defining their style with a variety of amusing jargons like “Junkyard Bop” and “Queer Death Pop.”
The directing partners’ tone in these segments sway between lovingly satirical and experimental, a narrative fusion that feels directionless at times. When a path forward finally yet belatedly arrives in the form of the impish, rule-breaking Bobbi Kitten (a real-life artist playing a loose version of herself), an alluring figure who charitably decides to take Lennon under her protective wing, “Poser” immediately finds new life. Some of the credit surely belongs to “Damn the Witch Siren,” Bobbi’s band alongside Z-Wolf, whose music we get a generous taste of throughout.
The dynamic between Bobbi and Lennon grows rather predictably, with the latter abusing the former’s kindness through lies and a sense of manipulative innocence. But you forgive the story’s commonness all the same, as Segev and Dixon manage to conceal it via their pleasing aesthetics and sharp eye for thoughtful, modish photographic compositions, culminating in what could be the movie version of a soothing and intellectually enriching walk through a minimalist modern art museum.
They also take a creative editing route for Lennon’s journey — not only is “Poser” partially structured in parallel to her podcast episodes, but it also contains smart interludes of flashbacks imagined in her mind. The most inspired of these appears casually, when Lennon tells the tale of an abandoned warehouse concert venue and an accidental, drunken death that occurred on the train tracks located right by it. Seemingly random at first, this gorgeously filmed, near-surreal diversion leads to a clever payoff later, demonstrating Segev and Dixon’s studious ambitions as filmmakers.
But again, their script is sadly the weak link on an otherwise strongly woven canvas — so much that you will leave “Poser” craving to get to know more of the quiet grifter Lennon, beyond her thinly justified fixations such as scavenging LPs, recording sounds and documenting strangers’ words, and a vaguely written sister character that emerges in the story out of nowhere, only to vanish equally pointlessly. Overall, the film often resembles a hybrid of documentary and fiction, with a narrative movie on its sidelines trying to muscle its way in. Still, the whole thing is oddly beautiful, absurdly compelling and even freakishly watchable. The general sensation of it approaches the out-of-place feeling of being at a party you don’t quite feel cool enough for. But since you’re already there, why not linger for a few drinks and embrace an intriguing ride outside your comfort zone?