For about 20 minutes, Bad Posture is agonizing in all the ways we’ve come to dread from a low-budget film about troubled, rootless misfits. It opens on a group of men in their 20s, some white, some Mexican American, standing on a street-side basically slinging variations of the word “fuck” at one another. The profanity is of the most contrived school of faux-authenticity, as you can sense the actors laboring to sound as movie-tough as possible. There’s a potential for truth in this bit, i.e. the acknowledgment that many small-town wannabe hoods mimic the behavior of characters from popular movies, but that hope is dashed with the dead humorlessness of the staging. These moments are meant to be taken at face value, as heavy-handed testament to the shapelessness of these guys’ lives.
The film continues in that fashion for most of the first act, up to and including a meet-cute between the protagonist, Flo (Florian Brozek, who also wrote the script), and a pretty girl, Marissa (Tabatha Shaun), by the lake of a local park. As Flo and Marissa awkwardly and potentially hit it off, Flo’s best—and, it would appear, only—friend, Trey (Trey Cole), seizes the opportunity to steal and hock Marissa’s car, an act that will haunt Flo for the rest of the film and eventually come to inform the conclusion.
Once it gets its nominal plot and character development out of the way, though, Bad Posture turns out to be pleasantly surprising. Director Malcolm Murray’s touch grows lighter, and he establishes Flo and Trey’s mutual dependency on one another with an accuracy and affection that’s legitimately unusual in American films of all kinds. Flo turns out to be—no surprise—a kind of stunted artist: a graffiti painter who sprays his art on abandoned train cars and eventually even on the walls of the apartment he shares with Trey. In these moments, Flo temporarily awakes from the paralysis that seems to grip him in every other situation, as he otherwise appears to be incapable of holding a job or even a conversation that isn’t with Trey. Trey, on the other hand, bizarrely impresses us by comparison with his small-time criminal entrepreneurship (selling weed, stealing cars) as well as with his surprisingly deep need to protect Flo. Bad Posture began to win me over when Trey first gives Flo money, a “loan” that’s clearly not meant to be repaid. In these situations, Murray and Brozek find the unspoken language of lonely men attempting to play a societal role that baffles them.
Bad Posture has other memorable details that convey a refreshing empathy and understanding beyond the immediate purview of the central characters. The Albuquerque, New Mexico setting is distinctly captured without the condescension that tends to come with movie treatments of smaller towns; while the local citizens, particularly a homeless guy outside of a laundry mat and a plumber—who manages to establish his character instantly with his tired, frustrated breathing—are filmed with a dignity and generosity that’s human and unexpectedly poignant. The moments of Flo and his friends spray-painting, which are set to admittedly character-violating opera, establish the sense of reassuring calm that work done solely for the pleasure of creation can bring about. And the film is even racially varied without any hint of self-consciousness or self-congratulation. Bad Posture is uneven and minor, but it’s not without promise or appeal. Here’s hoping that Malcolm Murray doesn’t learn the wrong lessons on future projects.