You know, I just can’t get enough of Russian musicals. Er, wait, no. Actually, Hipsters (2008) is the only Russian musical I’ve ever seen. Alas, despite a promising idea and an arresting look, this one didn’t exactly captivate me.
But it’s certainly interesting. Set in 1950s Soviet Russia, it’s a love story about Mels (Anton Shagin), a wavering member of a communist youth organization, who, following a raid on an underground jazz club, falls for a young woman named Polly (Oksana Akinshina). Mels’ infatuation with Polly quickly causes him to lose his grip on proper, drab Soviet behavior, and he crosses over into a politically risky, colorful subculture of jazz afficionados – the “hipsters.” These non-conforming free spirits, with their loud clothes and wild parties, transform Mels into the Americanized “Mel,” making him an outcast in his own country – but also a part of something else.
Hipsters was a mixed bag, for me. It has a rich, visually striking look and an infectious energy to it, but unfortunately it loses steam as it goes along – the structural polish isn’t quite there, nor is the pacing. The musical numbers are okay, but failed to charm me consistently – and the weird lyrical translations made it difficult to fit the music into the story. Indeed, I suspect much of the film’s theme and message just didn’t quite translate cleanly enough. It’s attractively produced, and culturally and politically intriguing, but ultimately Hipsters just didn’t flip my switch.