Communism collapsed in the Soviet Union because it couldn't satisfy the people's unquenchable need for chartreuse checked suits and electric-blue socks. Or so suggests this fable-like—and fabulous—musical. In Cold War Moscow, a clique of young adults lives for neon clothes, hot swing, and Americanized nicknames ("Fred," "Bob," "Betsy") in an ultra-conformist society where everyone else wears, looks, and acts gray. Jazz is a corrupting, treasonous impurity, as we're told: "A saxophone is only one small step away from a switchblade." But Mels, one of a brigade of ideological marauders who break up the Hipsters' samizdat dances, is seduced into leaving the Party and joining the party, taking the name Mel. (Since he was acronymically named for Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, dropping the S is no small act of rebellion.) Previously seen at SIFF '10, Hipsters' hot-cha production numbers are fantastic, though it's somewhat slow going from one to the next (and it definitely needn't be two hours long). But the finale is absolutely worth the wait: an explosive, blissed-out shout of individual freedom in a context where that actually means something. I can't recall the last time I got such a lift from a musical. And even though the film is far less grim than it could be—John Waters, not George Orwell, is the guiding spirit here—the triumph still feels fully earned.
Like John Waters behind the Iron Curtain.
Opens at Egyptian, Fri., Dec. 2. Not rated. 125 minutes.