In Moscow in 1955, hipsters—stilyagi—listen to jazz, style their hair in pompadours or bouffants, wear bright clothing, and (here’s the rub) risk arrest for “kowtowing to Western ideology.” Valeriy Todorovskiy’s film Hipsters observes the transformation of young Anton Shagin from well-behaved Komsomol member to sax-playing, plaid-wearing embracer of this underground culture, a journey marked by exuberant musical numbers. It owes its start, of course, to love—he’s determinedly pursuing Lilya 4-Ever’s Oksana Akinshina (whose resemblance to Michelle Williams is striking), who he first meets, appropriately, after chasing her down when participating in a raid on a hipster party. Soon, he’s tumbled for all of it: the music, the rebellion, the swagger of the group’s leader (Maksim Matveev), and the promise of America.
Looking like exotic creatures compared to the rest of the population in their identical, prim gray and brown outfits, the hipsters hang out on the downtown street they call “Broadway” and party at a cocktail club. They come into periodic confrontation with Shagin’s old Komsomol friends, especially the commissar (Evgeniya Brik), whose concern for her straying comrade leans toward the romantic. Being a hipster wasn’t a political act in the ’50s, though in the heyday of Soviet ideology, its repercussions could be almost equivalent—Shagin and his friends have to risk buying their records, outfits, and instruments on the black market, and are often dressed down on the street by passers-by who sneer “We fought Hitler for that?”
Cultural exoticism aside, Hipsters is about the delirium of being young and convinced that’ll never change—the dance sequences, some of which flash glimpses of the drab daytime lives of its participants, are alive with the joy of acting out, extending into scenes in which characters leap subway turnstiles or have enthusiastic sex in the communal apartment room they’re sharing with family members who try to ignore them. The film proceeds episodically, and at two hours, starts to drag in its meanderings toward adulthood and responsibility. But a grand, bittersweet final musical number places the hipsters in a tradition with punks and other coming countercultures, groups driven by a desire to not look or act like everyone else, and damn the consequences. Light as a bubble, Hipsters suggests that age may catch up with everyone, but that there will always be people fighting against the current of conformity, even if they only express it via how they wear their hair.