The non-hipster at the center of I Am Not a Hipster is an indie musician in San Diego who probably wouldn't be mistaken for a hipster anyway. He's more of a temperamental jerk. He's also grieving and depressed, which has led him to reject the fun things in life as trivial. Movies about mopey artists are a dime a dozen at film festivals, but this one -- the feature debut from writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton -- is a thoughtful and quietly affecting contribution.
Dominic Bogart gives a compelling lead performance as Brook Hyde, a singer/songwriter who has had some underground success in the San Diego music scene and could be destined for bigger things. At the moment of our introduction, however, he is too drunk to perform and must leave the stage to do some vomiting.
Flashback one week. Despite his growing number of devoted fans, Brook is unenthusiastic and moody. An interview with a radio DJ who wants to promote his music turns sour because of Brook's petulance, then gets worse when the DJ asks about his family. Brook's mother died two years ago. That's when he moved to San Diego. His three sisters and their father are about to visit him, though he's been ignoring their phone calls, evidently hoping that pretending it's not happening will keep it from happening.
That tactic doesn't work, however, and his sisters -- appropriately named Joy, Spring, and Merrily -- arrive to inject some optimism into his life and to call him on his B.S. Since he's surrounded by admirers in his big-fish-small-pond situation, he doesn't get slapped into reality often enough. Clarke (Alvaro Orlando), his friend and self-proclaimed manager, puts up with all kinds of abuse and gets no support for his own artistic projects in return.
My description of Brook probably makes him sound like a whiny, ungrateful brat with whom you would not want to spend 90 cinematic minutes. But the difference between this film and many of its ilk is that instead of presenting someone who's moody for no relatable reason, it explains him to us. We come to understand how his mother's death affected Brook, and how this has colored his recent behavior. What initially seemed like an unremarkable story about a directionless young person turns out to be a more insightful one about the grieving process.
The credit for this is shared by Cretton, whose screenplay has enough levity to avoid getting mired in Brook's depression, and Bogart, whose performance gives us enough opportunities to like him despite the character's mood. Nothing about I Am Not a Hipster is a game-changer (and I want to go on record as a non-fan of the title), but it has enough warmth and heart to stand out from the crowd.