Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton follows up his award winning short, Short Term 12, with a personal reflection on the San Diego indie scene through the eyes of young musician desperately trying to cope with his mother’s passing. The title I Am Not A Hipster suggests a focus on image and perception, which in fleeting instances come to fruition, but the film is really a heartfelt meditation on loneliness, and art’s ability to both help process the past or provide phlegmatic entertainment. Cretton’s feature is a work of deep emotion that showcases a breakout performance by Dominic Bogart, and a wonderful original soundtrack by Joel P. West that stands center stage.
Brook (Bogart) has made a name for himself in the San Diego music scene with a powerful self recorded indie rock record and an enthralling live show, but his success seems futile in the face of the harsh world he inhibits. His friend and biggest fan, Clark (Alvaro Orlando), takes every opportunity to help promote him, but Clark’s efforts are wasted on a loathsome, unappreciative man who won’t allow anyone to get close. Ex-lovers have become social obstacles and low brow art a target of diverted condemnation, resulting in a public meltdown that burns some already unstable bridges. When his father and three sisters come to visit with the intention of spreading their mother’s ashes in the sea as a family, Brook stubbornly refuses to interact with his dad until it is of utmost necessity. As the shameful truth behind his despair is finally released, what is truly important becomes instantly clear.
Arrogantly, Brook looks down on Clark for his diverse musical taste and his involvement in creating pop art, but when the conflict rises to the forefront, the purpose of art is open to interpretation. Like the film itself, it can be created with the intention of entertaining, but it also can be a vehicle of emotional expression or a document of social commentary. Cretton’s discussion on art is completely alive, wholly relevant, and portrayed with humbling embarrassment that shakes Brook’s very core.
The film stands upon Bogart’s incredibly invidious, but commanding performance, and the on screen realization of West’s memorable score. There are a variety of devout live performances sprinkled throughout the film that induce hair raising goosebumps due to their heartfelt authenticity. Multiple scenes even depicts the home recording process with astute realism, showing both the magic of what can be done with a personal computer, and the utter absurdity of recording alone in a room with headphones on.
I Am Not A Hipster will surely garner comparisons to Once, but only for its musical backbone. It is not a film hedged on romance. Cretton’s creation is one of fiction, yet it is constructed around personal experience. This fact profoundly pervades the film, feeling real and truthful at every turn. Though it follows the tried and true tortured artist narrative, it does so with intellectual conviction, appreciation for kinship, and natural style on every level. Cretton may not be a hipster after all, as he is crafting highly watchable, reflective cinema that scours him of puerile labels made for the uncreative.
Reviewed on February 4th at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival â€“ NEXT Programme.