Film review by: Witney Seibold
There’s something hugely sexy about Valery Todorovsky’s energetic Cold War musical “Hipsters.” It is, after all, about well-dressed, well-coiffed, jazz-loving, cigarette-smoking, sexually promiscuous twentysomethings, using their love of music and dance to crack through the stuffy façade of Moscow’s repressive Communist regime. These kids are rebels in a very true sense, and I liked the occasional bouts of genuine punk rock rebellion that the film tried to achieve.
It is the early 1950s, and Mels (Anton Shagin) is a blank-faced Communist volunteer police. He and his friends raid a juke joint at the film’s outset where they forcibly cut peers’ hair, and shred up their colorful duds. I should note that these duds are amazing. The suits are all brightly patterned, perfectly coordinated, and rest somewhere between a thrift store wet dream and the universe of Dick Tracy. No mere poodle skirts or wool suits, these outfits are works of art. The film, as a result, is bursting with color and gloriously lit jazz scenarios. In a world where mere fashion can stand as an act of defiance, it’s important that the clothes be suitably impressive. Mels, seduced by the music, the clothes, and, most notably, the come-hither looks of the comely Polza (Oksana Akinshina from “Lilya 4-Ever”), decides to buy a sharp suit and join the ranks of the hipsters. He finds a free-wheeling world of sex, song, and fun.
The world of the Moscow Hipster is a carefully structured one. You have to be a good dancer, or be declared square and gauche. You have to know music. You have to give yourself an American nickname. And the outfit has to be just perfect. It takes Mels a lot of overtime and a lot of secret advice on how to accumulate the appropriate costume. He eventually ingratiates himself into the Hipster circles, and there’s a lot of song and dance about how freeing it is to be a rebellious youth.
Just as in “Hair,” though, the party musty eventually end, and we see how Hipsterism can break down in the face of monetary opportunity and the teetering eventuality of settling down with someone. The constant oppression doesn’t help either.
And here’s where problems begin to creep into this idealized colorful musical universe. The oppression isn’t so oppressive. There’s a lot of talk about how owning a saxophone can get you killed, but Mels seems to brandish his without fear. The hipsters are busted, and their clothes are shorn, but no one is ever properly arrested. It’s not until we see the father of the hipster leader talk calmly and knowingly about how good his kids have it that things really start to feel right.
Another huge problem with “Hipsters” is Mels himself. Mels seems to decide, kind of arbitrarily, to join the ranks of the hipsters. He learns all the right facts, but never seems to be passionate about much of anything. His decisions are bland and expected. Mels is such a cipher that he loses all character, and become a legitimate non-entity. When he starts speaking out against the revolution (and there’s an excellent song sung by his rival), we don’t quite buy in. In a world where your attitude and your character are what seems to define you as a political animal, perhaps the hero should, y’know, have some attitude.
But then the film ends perfectly. The film’s final number (and I’m going to give it away here) is Mels and Polza, walking down the street, having learned that hipsters as they know them don’t actually exist in America. Then they defiantly begin to sing how young hipsterism is eternal. They are joined on the streets by punk rockers, grunge rockers, hippies, metalheads, DIY DJs, hackers, and all manner of young rebels throughout the ages. It’s a glorious number that shows that these well-dressed sexy Russian hipsters led the way of all youth freedom in future ages. I liked that a lot.
And the cast is, again, sexy as Hell. Everyone is clear-skinned, well-dressed, and in awesome shape. There’s a sex scene partway through the film, and it’s a lot sexier than most sex scenes in American films just because the kids look so good. It leaves lumpen hairy guys like me envious. So I guess the film is a delightful colorful confection, full of energy and gorgeous kids doing fun stuff. It’s just not as deep or as entertaining as it should be.