After a prolonged stay in the U.S., a Brylcreemed Hungarian teenybopper teaches his Commie-era peers about rock ‘n’ roll in “Made in Hungaria,” helmer Gergely Fonyo’s fluffy but swinging musical romance. Solidly entertaining ’60s-set tuner is based on the Hungarian stage musical that was in turn inspired by the early days of Magyar rocker Miklos Fenyo. Early February release at home garnered almost 200,000 admissions, making it the second biggest local title of the year. With its high feel-good quotient, “Made” could jive into fests wanting to counterbalance the recent glut of Central Euro gloom-and-doom pics.
Though a staple of Magyar cinema in the Communist era, musicals haven’t been popular in Hungary since the 1989 transition. A notable exception was Peter Timar’s 1997 B.O. hit “Csinibaba,” which, perhaps not coincidentally, also told the story of a ’60s talent contest.
Pic opens with the arrival of 18-year-old Miki (Tamas Szabo Kimmel) and his parents (Tamas Dunai, Eva Vandor) at a rundown airport in 1963 Hungary. “Rock and roll,” says Miki, eyeing the flaky control tower lined with armed soldiers.
Languid early scenes offer a gently humorous look at the family trying to settle in again. Helmer Fonyo (“Young, Dumb and Full of Love”) then shifts into second gear with the first musical number, in which Miki shows off his Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired piano and singing skills after bumping into his childhood friends in a park.
Miki’s buddies join in, except for the group’s new leader, Rone (Ivan Fenyo), who took Miki’s place after the latter left four years earlier. A rivalry between the two at several talent contests is, of course, inevitable.
Fonyo uses the Communist-era setting for both humor and nostalgia, though his focus always remains on the kids and the music. The antics of Comrade Bigali (Peter Scherer), who is supposed to watch Miki’s family but also wants to exploit Miki’s musical gifts, get some of the biggest laughs.
After a setback about halfway through, Miki exclaims, “I just want to make music and fall in love,” and the pic’s aspirations don’t go much beyond this. But Kimmel’s peppy perf makes the film an enjoyable ride, and he has nice chemistry with Sarah Jessica Parker lookalike Tunde Kiss, who plays his childhood sweetheart. Other thesps are competent ensemble players, with Eva Vandor (the only thesp from the stage musical to reprise her role) giving Miki’s mother some warmth in just a few scenes.
The musical numbers work best in natural situations, such as the talent contest and scenes of serenading. Editor Mano Csillag niftily advances smaller stories-within-the-story during the numbers by using parallel editing. Choreography is old-school but effective.
Like other musical love stories set in the early ’60s (“Dirty Dancing,” “Hairspray”), “Made in Hungaria” is so meticulously designed that any sense of realism is lost in all the picture-perfect period detail. Pre-recorded voices lack verve, but other tech credits are tops.
For the record, “Hungaria” was the name of the band of Miki’s real-life counterpart, Miklos Fenyo.