I should admit that I assumed The Hottest State, a movie based on Ethan Hawke's first semi-autobiographical novel, would be pretentious. Thus, keeping that in mind, I found the movie to be better than expected. I daresay I almost enjoyed it.
Just almost, though. For having nothing new or original to present to us, the movie is way too long at 117 minutes — and it feels much longer than that. The actors in the lead roles (Mark Webber playing William and Catalina Sandino Moreno as Sarah) do their damndest to keep us interested, but that's a hugely tall order. Few actors can handle carrying an entire movie, and as engrossing as they are — Moreno most of all — it's too much responsibility for these two.
It might have been helpful if the script were slightly more interesting. Boy meets girl, boy loves girl, girl breaks up with boy. Boy indulges in whiny self-destruction and seeks out his father (with whom he has Major Issues) to, I guess, unearth some additional pain while he's already riding the Agony Train. Hawke, too old and gross to play William (who he undoubtedly molded in his own image back in 1996) shows up as William's elusive Texan dad who tells his son to "never stray too far from Texas in your heart." Keep that in mind as you read more
The movie is overflowing with little gems like those — trite, tired lines rehashed for a hipster generation. More often than not these sentiments are quickly undercut by another hipster's cynical retort, showing that Hawke (did I mention he adapted the story for film and directed it, too?) puts stock in these poeticized cliches while at the same time fancying himself too cool for them.
Here are the best things about the movie: the music, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Laura Linney, who makes dazzling appearances as William's mother. If nothing else, Hawke's great with music and his indie-heavy soundtrack is truly superb. Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) is simply mesmerizing onscreen — sensual, confident, spiritual. The moments that focus on William alone are boring in comparison. And Linney, as always, waltzes into a movie bursting with wisdom, human fallibility and grace.
Like getting Linney to be in his movie, Hawke did some things very well with The Hottest State. It is pretentious, no doubt about that. But there are bits of truthfulness in there, too. You just have to sit through all the posturing and tired dialogue to get to them.
Photos courtesy of THINKFilm