Inspired by the subculture of antiestablishment defiance that arose in the conformist Soviet Union of the mid-1950s, “Hipsters” is of interest both as Russian and rebel history and as a notable addition to the catalog of the self-expression musical.
Boris meets Elvis, or at least goes wild over Charlie Parker, in this jazzy, pop-colored movie set in climes where fashion constitutes political statement and a saxophone is considered a “concealed weapon.”
Choreography may surpass character development, but novelty and energy add up to something that is mildly filling and plenty of fun.
Directed by Valery Todorovsky and written by Yuri Korotkov (adapting his book “Boogie Bones”), the story transpires in 1955 Moscow, where a culture war is occurring between a drearily clad Communist youth troop led by a joyless hardliner named Katya (Evgeniya Brik) – and the exaggeratedly Western-styled “hipsters.”
The latter frequent underground jazz clubs where women wear short skirts and men sport black-market ties and pompadours – elements that Katya and company tackle with scissors.
Twenty-year-old Mels (stands for Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin), played by Anton Shagin, starts out in the repressive camp but changes course after he falls for Polly (Oksana Akinshina), a hipster he’s supposed to be busting.
Soon, Mels is hanging out with guys called Bob (Igor Voynarovsky) and Fred (Maksim Matveev), learning to boogie-woogie, and playing the forbidden saxophone.
The action follows several hipsters as they experience love, music, trials and repercussions.
With its celebration of expression, story of star-crossed love and period coifs, the movie can’t help but suggest a Russian melding of “Footloose,” “Hairspray,” “Grease,” “West Side Story” and “Hair,” and the overlong story declines into familiar melodrama toward the end.
Material involving Katya, who is attracted to Mels and jealous of Polly, is particularly unsatisfying. Still, the film is a vital, colorful mix of social satire and a spirited reminder of how popular music gives discontented young people a beat and a boost.
Todorovsky doesn’t always shift tones smoothly, but his more serious material is consistently interesting, the lighter scenes are enjoyable, and musical numbers (Todorovsky wrote the libretto) are cinematic and efficiently choreographed.
Like “Goodbye Lenin,” the film pokes amusing fun at the depressing drabness of Soviet-era decor. The closing moments are a vibrantly anachronistic combination of a Hollywood and a Russian ending. With the musical being a near-nonexistent performance form in Russia, this movie is almost as novel as “The Artist.”
Acting is solid. Akinshina, who may look familiar, has been seen on these shores in “Lilya 4-Ever” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”
Starring Anton Shagin, Oksana Akinshina, Evgeniya Brik, Maksim Matveev
Written by Yuri Korotkov, Valery Todorovsky
Directed by Valery Todorovsky
Running time 2 hours 5 minutes