What makes a ‘hipster’ movie?


May contain spoilers. 

After a recent viewing of Destin Cretton’s I Am Not a Hipster, a couple friends and I agreed that it was a good movie. We all enjoyed it, but they hated the title. “Seems like a cash grab,” they said. “What part of that movie had anything to do with quote unquote [because no one likes to commit to a definition, even in IRL conversation] ‘hipsters'” And thus started the discussion that the Internet has been having for four years.

So, nu uh. No. I’m not going to touch that subject here. Too much bandwidth has already been devoted to what is or what isn’t a hipster. Besides, it’s a stale conversation. Could you even start a blog like “Look at this Fucking Hipster” now? Are people still looking for good bands to come out of Brooklyn? Obviously, the answer is yes, but it’s nothing like insurmountable trend that poured out of the late 2000s.

I think the “hipster” conversation, though, has been useful in addressing a deeper issue of the predominately-male inability to communicate intimacy or simply, connect, which (as opposed to the man’s man/Men are from Mars) now translates into the self-doubt, self-destruction, passive-aggression, isolation and substance abuse that anyone who knows the tone of the Internet can recognize.

Both I Am Not a Hipster and Rick Alverson’s The Comedyperhaps the most scathing and indicting representation of hipster culture I’ve ever seen—utilize these characteristics. The two movies share vague characteristics: IANaH‘s Dominic Bogart has cut off communication with his father; The Comedy‘s Tim Heidecker’s father is comatose. Both characters have the capacity for charm, but usually while drunk. Bogart isolates himself in his room/recording studio; Heidecker spends a lot of time floating in a boat in the middle of the East River. So yeah, plot-wise, there are enough threads that a smarter person could write that kind of analysis.

But while I Am Not a Hipster uses Bogart’s search for meaningful connection to repudiate the facets of hipsterdom (hence the appropriate title, was my argument), The Comedy relishes in it. I like IANaH because it’s well-shot, well-acted and is based in San Diego (me likes when I can recognize things!), but ultimately, it’s a safe movie. The ending shows redemption that a relatively unknown filmmaker should utilize to make himself and the picture palatable to a wide audience.

The Comedy, on the other hand, is a dangerous movie. To Heidecker’s acting credit, he’s created the most unlikeable character in recent years, yet it’s a character that I can relate to, and who I recognize in too many acquaintances. He strives for connection but settles for provocation. He drinks too much. He’s offensive for the lulz. He wants to keep the party going, even at 35.

To be sure, Heidecker can be charming. A lot has been said about the scene where he defends Hitler to a woman during a drunken flirting session. This is, I would argue, the one spot where we see his success at connection: they’re both drunk and the conversation is offensive and, in a sick way, pretty funny. To even consider his sincerity about the subject would discredit the woman’s intelligence.

However, we never see Heidecker intimate with a woman. After the successful Hitler flirtation, it cuts to the aftermath of the woman lying naked on the bed and he’s staring at her. He pokes her face to wake her up. This negates whatever courting efforts from the previous scene and relegates her to a prop to be prodded. This also mirrors the physical contact he has with his comatose father: poking. I’m not going to pretend to be knowledgeable about the current hook-up culture, or even subscribe to that generalizing NYTimes article about it, but Heidecker’s emotionally defunct and patronizing reaction seems to meet the criteria of Hipster Misogyny (google it).

In fact, the only intimacy that we see is a slow-motion montage during the credits with Heidecker and his friends partying naked and spilling beer in each other’s underwear. Same goes for a make-shift baseball game. Always with the guys, always drinking.

Again, none of this is new. The male’s inability to connect on with anything emotionally is the source of too much comedy and too many stereotypes. And  the subject of detachment/searching for connection is nothing new in Art—I could pick out a lot of parallels between The Comedy and Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, down to the respective pornographic slideshow/snuff film.

However, this new form of disconnection is entirely the product of the internet which, I would argue, is intrinsic with anything Hipster. It’s contradictory, modular and self-aware. It’s not the oft-misappropriated “irony”, but sarcasm, snark and inability to speak without quipping. It masks itself as the victim but has the capacity for lashing out. It’s entitlement without the drive (like Heidecker accepting a $7.50 per hour job despite expecting $10). It’s hanging instead of dating. It’s texting instead of calling. It’s about thinking and feeling instead of knowing. And, at the same time, hating how it has to be like that.

Ugh. I started this off by not wanting to have this conversation.

(NSFW clip)

2 thoughts on “What makes a ‘hipster’ movie?

  1. Great article! It’s possible that both of these films examine the current masculine crisis honestly, but the IANAH movie is more redeeming, and therefore wrong (I haven’t seen either of these). In the past, when guys acted this way they were seen as stupid or weak, and in in Tim’s case, probably got the crap kicked out of them more. Maybe the problem is that no one expects anything from guys anymore? Is that liberating or debilitating?

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