The Hottest State (2007)
A young actor from Texas tries to make it in New York while struggling in his relationship with a beautiful singer/songwriter.
This film combines the beyond tedious work of a writer who doesn't know how to tell an interesting tale with the visual melange of a director who mistakenly thinks a multiplicity of images multiplies effect. As both the writer and director of The Hottest State, Ethan Hawke proves he should really stick to acting.Though it's gussied up with narration, flashbacks, intertwining scenes and a buttload of montages, the plot of this thing is crudely simplistic. An immature weenie named William Harding (Mark Webber) falls in love with an opaque bitch named Sarah Garcia (Catalina Sandino Morena), she breaks his heart and he spends the rest of the film moping around like a jackass. More specifically, William and Sarah's relationship goes like this They meet and she won't have sex with him. They move in together and she still won't have sex with him. They take a trip to Mexico and she has sex with him. She says they should get married and then changes her mind after talking with her mother for 20 seconds on the phone. They spend four weeks apart and then she breaks up with him. He mopes around like a jackass and rejects an old girlfriend (played by the very sexy Michelle Williams). His mom shows up to give him all the comfort of hugging a porcupine. He visits his estranged dad and mopes around like a jackass in front of him. After some time goes by, William and Sarah reconnect. William drives from New York City to Texas with his mother and father as teenagers in the backseat.I have no idea why Ethan Hawke thought that story was something anyone needed to experience on the screen. We've all watched it a thousand times before and most of us have lived through it a time or two. The sparse detail added to the narrative only emphasizes how trite it all is.Even Hawke apparently understood how common and uninvolving his story was, because he throws everything but the kitchen sink into telling it. He wantonly violates the "one montage per good movie" rule, includes flashbacks seen from William's point of view as a child, repeatedly tries to make boring and pointless scenes more interesting by splicing them together and throughout the first 3/4ths of the movie, Hawke constantly cuts away to pointless foreshadowing shots of William riding on a train. The soundtrack is also an unceasing stream of one folksy, countryish song after another that seeps into your brain until you feel like beating Willie Nelson to death with a garden hoe. There is a nice bit of nudity in this film but that is more than canceled out by a scene where we watch William urinate into a toilet, yellowy stream and all.Hawke fails to give William or Sarah anything to do or say that is even remotely inviting. When William's mom and dad show up for the final third of the film, they turn out to be a bit engaging. That's largely because of the talent of Laura Linney and Hawke, but also because they're given relatable characteristics. Linney is allowed to play William's mom as a strong but somewhat rigid woman who's made no excuses for her life and won't accept any from others. Hawke plays the dad as someone who regrets the mistakes of his youth but has moved past them. Those little aspects of humanity make them look so much better compared to the whiny loser that is William and the indecipherable Sarah.I hope this story was autobiographical for Hawke and he got something out of making it into a movie. He'd be the only one getting anything out of it. The Hottest State is a boring tale told in an aggravating fashion that has one of those endings where things just peter out. Unless you're in the midst of getting your heart broken for the first time and want to see someone handle it even worse than you, don't bother watching this film.
Ethan Hawke pulls off nothing short of a one-man cinematic tour de force in "The Hottest State," a movie he wrote, directed and briefly appears in. And to top it off, it's based on his own novel.This low-budget film chronicles the rocky relationship between a struggling Manhattan actor and a beautiful young woman from Connecticut who's come to the city to start a new life for herself as a singer. Originally hailing from Texas, William Harding is not the most ambitious or highly motivated young man when it comes to pursuing his goals or the most monogamous when it comes to his relationships with women, but all that changes when he meets Sarah, "the girl of his dreams." She makes him want to become a better, more stable person, but Sarah has other things on her mind than getting tied down in a relationship, so she essentially keeps William at arm's-length, allowing him only so far into her heart before shutting him out completely. Meanwhile, blindsided by love, William can't seem to figure out why the girl he's ready to devote his entire life to pleasing seems hell-bent on sabotaging their relationship. And, yet ironically, the more aggressively he pursues her, the more he winds up pushing her away.Thanks to extraordinarily perceptive writing and acting, "The Hottest State" rises far above the average Hollywood romance - its characters more recognizable and complex and its situations more believable and true to life. Both William and Sarah bring a certain amount of baggage with them from their childhoods and previous relationships, but, for the most part, they are just two fairly ordinary young people feeling their way through life, trying to make a go of it as a couple, with all the pain, pleasure and confusion that that entails. And if their demons occasionally get the better of them, well heck, that's all a part of this game we call love as well."The Hottest State" is really an examination of what happens when one half of a romantic couple falls out of love with the other half, leaving the latter no outlet through which to channel that still-smoldering obsession. The movie nicely turns the situation on its head by making it the woman, rather than the man, who's having trouble making the commitment. There are times when both these characters can be maddeningly frustrating to watch, and when, frankly, neither of them is all that sympathetic or likable. But that's merely an indication of just how utterly committed the movie is to the truth of its characters and story - and how highly it respects and values the intelligence and maturity of its audience.Mark Webber and Catalina Sandino Moreno are simply astounding in their portrayal of two people trying to come to terms with how each one feels about the other, and they are beautifully complemented by Hawke, Laura Linney and Michele Williams in supporting roles. The final confrontation scene between William and Hawke, playing the dad who abandoned him when he was thirteen years old, is searing in what it has to say about the devastating effect an absent parent can have on the psyche of a rejected child - and how that effect can continue on throughout the entirety of that child's life.Buoyed by an ending that refuses to cater to generic formulas or the expectations of its audience, "The Hottest State" is a heartbreaking story about heartbreak.
There's a lot to like in Hottest State, even if far from perfect.Ethan Hawke's direction of his (probably autobiographical) novel sets the mood perfectly, with great music, lighting and good pacing of this story. The story progresses well, contains sensual moments and with the help of an inspired, yet simple soundtrack, is at times touching. Unfortunately, the dialogs are a real weakness and something Hawke might have wanted to touch up, preferably with someone else.Without a doubt, the highlight of the film is Mark Webber in the lead role. Simply put, I have not seen such a promising actor since noticing Ryan Gosling in "The Believer", years ago. I immediately knew Gosling was headed for stardom and this will be the case here as well. At a young age, Webber shows intensity, range and depth wrapped up in restraint. At times as whacky as a Giovanni Ribisi, as laid back and colorfully human as a Sam Rockwell, as soulful and magnetic as a Sean Penn. Webber is the complete package to be great in second roles but, just like Gosling, oozes of the charisma required to lead big movies as well. It's a matter of time for him to get noticed.Sadly, his romantic interest Catalina Sandino Moreno is not nearly as good. I wish someone of the caliber of Abbie Cornish had been cast in the role of Sarah. Instead, Catalina's portrayal of Sarah comes off as one-dimensional and annoying for what should be a fascinating and complex character. While Webber makes us feel his character's passion for Sarah, it's tough for us as viewers to really buy Catalina's performance. The script is also at fault for that at times.With a better second lead, a script shave of 10 to 15 minutes and tighter dialogs, this would be a classic. Instead, it is an enjoyable moment and for those of us who had never noticed Mark Webber, an opportunity to see one of the next bright stars of cinema. Nonetheless, props to Ethan Hawke for what is a very heartfelt movie.
I saw this film at the LA Film Festival and found it to be a boring talk-fest between two largely unsympathetic, unconvincing characters. If Hawke was trying to channel Linkletter's Before Sunrise/Sunset, he should have also created characters whose motivations and reactions are at least somewhat plausible, even if they happen to be 20 year olds. On the other hand, the character portrayed by Laura Linney (the mother of male lead) is refreshing in her contribution of realism to the story. Otherwise, if you like lots of self-involved rambling about nothing much, punctuated by music videos and a few moments of soft-core porn, this is your movie.