It seems I must write

no more avoiding the truth

Review: I AM NOT A HIPSTER

It would not be hard to passionately rave about this film’s thematic strength, incredible and original soundtrack, and formal excellence. But there is so much more to say beyond that.

I AM NOT A HIPSTER captures the maturation and healing of Brook, an angst-and-grief-stricken singer/songwriter who “was driving on the way to [his mother’s] funeral, and instead of taking a right, just kept going…”on to San Diego.  There, he’s made a name for himself in the hipster/indie crowd – though he wrestles painfully with his purpose in making music (when there’s been a tsunami in Japan), the breakup he can’t get over, and his own self-absorption and aggression.  The turn comes when his family comes into town to spread his mother’s ashes and check on him – and the unstinting and uplifting love of his three sisters helps him come to term with his mother’s death and the pain that makes him lash out at others.

At some point during the viewing, I thought to myself, “this is a perfect film.” If I were to try to explain why – it would have something to do with the realism of three sisters (Joy, Spring, and Marilee) jumping on Brook’s bed in unison to wake him up, the weird disposable-razor and hair-curler art his best friend Clark made for him – and the fact that Brook and his estranged father almost lose the urn in the ocean right when they’re about to scatter the ashes. It might be about the formal unity of the film beginning and ending at the concert he’s giving on a Friday night – with the previous week’s journey sandwiched between, giving it meaning.  It definitely includes the practical side of Brook, who is a substitute teacher on the side – and the almost impossibly tender side of him, when he teaches a classroom full of children how to sing along with one of his songs.  All this comes together as the snot and tears fall when Brook finally acknowledges that his loneliness, rage against his friends, and deep hurt are because he has not yet allowed himself to mourn.

But the strong + resounding acknowledgement I’d like to give to writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton, is that he made a film the way Jesus would have.  Far more significantly than how a Christian film tries to push Christian themes– Destin, the creator, takes after the Creator.

Destin put his life into the story – perhaps out of necessity, yet perhaps to share the best of his life with the world at large.  He put his life into the story: subtly, indelibly, yet without any trace of self-centeredness.

Immediately after the screening ended, Destin took the stage – introducing the cast and crew with almost the gentle pride of a father. He highlighted again his mother’s presence in the audience –recognized his girlfriend (who did the costume design) – and then introduced for the first time…his brother Brook and his own three sisters, Joy, Spring, and Marilee!   You could see the real sense of family on stage and hear it referenced in people’s questions. Brook’s apartment was actually Destin’s apartment – and Destin himself had been “really blessed to be a part of [the San Diego hipster] community for ten years…[having fallen] in love with the genuine, childlike creativity rampant there.” Why did he include the tsunami footage (and the related question about the meaning of art)? Because Destin himself “[thought] about this all the time… when there’s ‘real’ stuff happening, why am I making movies?”

 

The realism and truth of the film came out of its particularity – Destin’s particularity – and from that, its universal appeal.

With no trace of arrogance or pride, this was a filmmaker who wanted to play to everyone’s strengths: writing a screenplay so that the main lead, Dominic Bogart, could showcase his acting and his talent as a musician. Destin deliberately “left gaps [in the script] for people to fill in…[because his] greatest enjoyment [was] being surprised by other people’s abilities.” In an incredibly collaborative spirit, song-writer Joel P West would write music for the script, then Destin would rewrite the script around the music – and Dominic would practice the songs until they felt like they were his own – and so forth.  In contrast to his very controlled former way of writing and directing – he now kept the script “as loose as possible – so the music could affect it… and the actors could affect it… so it could unfold naturally.”

How did he do the casting and, for example, make the sisters seem so much like real sisters? His unconventional choice was to take the lead actors on a hike before they went to set – giving each of them an envelope of “jobs”: shooting photos, telling stories of their own that related to themes from the movie, farting at some point during the hike… it came to feel like a family project.

He then set a crazy goal to try and make the Sundance deadline, even though it was mid-June – and they all set off to find people who were interested in simply making a movie together. They just went for it, and tried to make it happen. Which proves that the general equation of

indie music + true family + good friends + limited time + real talent

can not only = I AM NOT A HIPSTER but also = a huge success. Congratulations, Destin, and we look forward to all that is ahead!

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