Queen of quirky independent film, Miranda July, recently released her latest left field attempt to ensnare the art school crowd with The Future. A film that takes self indulgence to shocking new heights when a childless 30 something couple in Los Angeles suffer a pre mid life crisis. The world it explores is so insular and the two main characters, played by Hamish Linklater and July herself, are so egotistical that you end up feeling no sympathy for their deluded misadventures. These include affairs with older gentlemen and a campaign to save the planet by means of tree planting. Once you throw in the usual Miranda July trappings, like a talking cat that sounds like something from The Exorcist gone through the blender and random conversations with the moon, it all amounts to a big indulgent mess. The film’s only merit is in highlighting a trend in modern movies for hipster love affairs.
One of the films that kind of kicked off the whole thing was Richard Linklater’s Vienna set romance Before Sunrise, and its sequel Before Sunset, about two strangers on a train who spend a magical day in one of the most picturesque cities in the world. They become star crossed lovers and all that jazz and then return to the city nine years later for the sequel. The protagonists played by French starlet Julie Delpy and former Uma Thurman arm candy Ethan Hawk are a pretty cool package. They keep their passion for each other hidden behind their beautiful facade which includes minimalist, stylish clothes: him in worn leather jacket and slicked back hair and her in a simple black maxi dress complete with tousled blonde locks that make her look like a provincial school teacher. It is this idea of an anti romance of sorts. One where the onscreen couple are attracted to one another but never explicitly convey those emotions that define hipster love in all its glory.
If you want to be classed as a hipster couple on screen, then there are certain criteria that you have to meet to get into this exclusive club. Firstly you’ve got to be attired in chic clothes. This style of romance is largely dependent on how good you look in a pair of fuchsia pink skinny chinos. It can be flea market panache, as Diane Keaton did so well in Annie Hall, or a more refined, elegant look. Jason Schwartzman in his slick monochrome Saville Row suit from The Darjeeling Limited is a good marker. Basically if you show up in a baseball cap or power suit you’re fucked. Unless you’re wearing them in an ironic way of course.
Another important staple of the hipster romance sub genre is that you can’t have your lovebirds openly express their feelings for one another. Because being overly romantic with red roses and candy hearts is so lame, you know? It’s all done by metaphor and the occasional longing glance. Lastly you should set your anti-mainstream courtship in a big city, preferably in some kind of art gallery or a swanky hotel bar like Sofia Coppola did in her Tokyo anti-romance Lost in Translation. The piano bar that Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray flee to in an effort to drown their insomnia provides the perfect ratio of jazz chanteuse to low-key decor for the relationship to flourish in a hip fashion. Though this is not essential. Richard Ayoade created a charming alt teenage romance by the Welsh seaside in Submarine. Of course the matching Paddington bear jackets helped a lot.
If you know the work of French Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan then you know what a hipster romance looks like. In his two features to date (I Killed My Mother & Heartbeats) the man has done more for the hipster romance genre than anyone on this blue dot. In Heartbeats or Les Amours Imaginaries three preposterously beautiful twenty something’s prance around Montreal in heart shaped sunglasses with sculpted Everest quiffs. They are far too cool to express their feelings for each other in mere words so must resort to an assortment of tricks: writing letters full of French poetry and buying expensive wicker hats par example.
Mike Mills, everyone’s favourite graphic designer turned indie director, returned after a hiatus this year with Beginners. The central romance between a depressed graphic artist (autobiographical much?) and a French mime (Inglorious Basterd’s, Melanie Laurent) has a candyfloss centre. They drift through second hand bookshops and costume parties in a kind of melancholy daze. Never really expressing their feelings for one another they indulge in mindless philosophical graffiti and roller discos. Classic hipster behaviour.
Gus Van Sant recently took a shocking nosedive into sickly sweet youthful love in Restless. The story of two teenage outsiders (Henry Hopper & Mia Wasikowska) whose idea of a goodtime amounts to sketching in graveyards and gate crashing funerals. These kids are so hipster that they talk to a deceased Japanese pilot.
The question is: do these self-indulgent tales of romance and whimsy ever really convince? The well written ones can certainly tap into the ethos of a generation that likes its stories pumped with gaudy colours and pop music. They don’t want to see long-winded romantic epics that rightfully belong in an Emily Bronte novel. They want something lighter with sparse dialogue and actors playing it straight.
There is something so enticing about watching a pair of beautiful youths in zebra prints strutting about a city together, never really openly discussing the relationship. It’s all about the idea of fantasy really. Which in its essence is what cinema is: a means of escape from the humdrum. What better way to do this than watching anti love stories acted out by gorgeous strangers?