Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

REVIEW

Hearts don't beat as one

Writer-director Ethan Hawke obsesses about unrequited love in 'The Hottest State.'

August 24, 2007|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

WILLIAM (Mark Webber) is a 20-year-old actor born in Texas and raised in New York after his parents divorced when he was a child. Some 15 years later, the trauma is still fresh in his mind, sparking flashbacks to his conception and, later, to his father's advice never to stray too far from Texas in his heart. William dutifully follows the tip, incorporating down-home elements in his hipster (hickster?) wardrobe and affecting a mopey cowboy demeanor. One night at a bar in Williamsburg, William meets Sara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), an aspiring singer freshly dropped out of college, and quickly falls madly in love. Like William, Sara wears her wounds on the surface, and the two fall quickly into a fitful, push-pull romance. He pulls, she pushes, he falls off a cliff.

Ethan Hawke's second directorial effort, which he adapted from his own novel, "The Hottest State" is a moody and atmospheric coming-of-age story about a young man's first experience with love and heartbreak.

Personal and heartfelt, it's nevertheless bogged down by a lack of perspective on the material and a pointlessly frilly visual style that seems to want to suggest that this particular pedestrian but universal human experience is somehow extra-special.

Even after they more or less move in together, Sara insists on keeping the relationship platonic, reminding William at every romantic turn that she's not into having a boyfriend. She sleeps with him but doesn't sleep with him, then takes him home to meet her embittered mother (Sonia Braga), who blames the last guy Sara went out with for Sara's decision to quit school. Like untold suckers before him, William falls readily into this trap. When an acting gig takes him to Mexico for a few weeks, Sara comes along -- and perhaps because every inch of the country appears to be doused in sweat and grit, it's there that she decides to consummate their relationship. It's a religious experience for William. We know because Hawke inter-cuts the sex scenes with scenes from inside a church and vice versa. But when Sara leaves early and William rejoins her in New York after a four-week separation, she makes good on her tacit promise to mess him up.

What follows is the fairly excruciating aftermath of a dumping. William may be our hero, but after a while his insistent desperation grows tiresome, and we come to identify with the call-screening dumper. As Sara, Sandino Moreno is appealing but elusive, her true feelings trapped in a hermetic seal of girly craziness. That, or as she keeps reminding William, she's not nearly as interesting as he thinks she is. Laura Linney plays William's cheerful, no-nonsense mother, who tries her best to help him over the hump by refusing to indulge his self-pity and reminding him that bad things will happen in life, but happiness is a choice. As always, she is the best thing about the movie, and sadly underused. Also fleeting is the appearance of Michelle Williams as William's slinky ex-girlfriend Samantha.

As a director, Hawke has a tendency to gild the lily until it's hard and heavy as a bludgeon. But as William's feckless dad, who remarried and all but forgot about his unmoored son, he is quite touching. When William tells Sara that she broke his heart, she replies that his heart was broken long before she met him. For once, her words don't come across as pure post-adolescent affectation. She's right, and you wish the movie spent more time delving into the relationship between William and his parents instead of trying to draw blood from Sara's stony refusal to love him.

The problem with "The Hottest State" is that it takes an experience familiar to most and presents it in pretty much the way it's experienced by someone who can't yet drink legally. A smidgen of remove and a sense of humor would have gone a long way here, but like Linney's matter-of-fact character, they're hardly in evidence. Instead, the movie indulges William's every swoony, lovelorn excess, romanticizing his neediness and lack of control until you're tempted to go out and get a restraining order on him yourself.

--

carina.chocano@latimes.com

--

"The Hottest State." MPAA rating: R for sexual content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 848-3500.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|