One of the more annoying assumptions that still haunts the world is that the folks who write or critique pop culture are failed artists. Or at least they’re wannabes looking for a back door into the creative worlds they wish to occupy. The social media era has only made these theories—and the fact that these kinds of kneejerk reactions are most often directed at women—that much harder to avoid. And now they are given a louder voice with Poser, the debut feature from filmmakers Noah Dixon and Ori Segev.
The protagonist of their well-made but slight drama is a shy, retiring young woman named Lennon (Sylvie Mix) who desperately wants to be as cool as the folks making and reacting to art in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. At first, she secretly records people reacting to paintings at an exhibition and passes off their pretentious commentary as her own. As she becomes more emboldened, Lennon starts stealing bigger ideas: lyrics and songs from the musicians she interviews for her podcast.
There’s the seed of an interesting and dark The King of Comedy-type film (Scorsese, 1982) about obsession within Poser, but Dixon and Segev don’t seem interested in going down that path. Their story sticks to the surface level, bouncing Lennon’s deer in the headlights personality off of Bobbi Kitten, the frontwoman for the real-life Sleigh Bells-inspired electro-pop duo called Damn the Witch Siren. The pink-haired musician is everything Lennon is not: confident, sexually forward, and talented.
For Bobbi, having this wide-eyed naïf hanging on her every word is the perfect ego trip, while Lennon sees something aspirational in this brash, bold artist. It becomes a mildly co-dependent friendship with both women quietly siphoning energy off of each other.
There are glimmers of what might have been within Poser. The film’s celebration of the Columbus, Ohio music scene shows promise but doesn’t really give us a sense of the personalities and talent through the short performance clips included. As well, one small scene between Bobbi and Lennon had the potential to lead this film in a far more interesting direction. While being interviewed for a podcast, Bobbi bats away a potentially revealing question. Newly emboldened, Lennon pushes her, demanding a response and getting a truly real moment from the musician. The interaction leaves both women looking genuinely surprised and inspired.
Unfortunately, Poser continues to crumble from there, playing into all the worst tropes about female friendships and women in arts journalism. Baked into the Lennon/Bobbi bond is the underlying belief that every relationship between two women is rooted in competitiveness or jealousy. As well, there’s the misogynist idea that the only reason women enter into music media is that they either want to be or fuck the people they’re writing about. By some small mercy, the filmmakers avoided throwing Lennon and Bobbi into a sexual relationship or having them fight over the same partner.
There’s no real reason why Poser had to be about two women. They had a chance to make some trenchant commentary about these kinds of stereotypes by flipping the gender script on these main characters. Instead, Poser feels like fodder for the trolls that have been using their online bully pulpits to keep women from pursuing careers in the cultural press.