The Hottest State ***
Directed by Ethan Hawke
Written by Ethan Hawke, based on his book
Mark Webber as William Harding
Catalina Sandino Moreno as Sarah
Ethan Hawke as Vince
Michelle Williams as Samantha
Josh Zuckerman as Decker
Laura Linney as Jesse
117 Minutes(Rated R for sexual content and language.)
"The Hottest State" gives evidence that Ethan Hawke should stick behind the camera instead of popping out in front of it. I never really found him to be that good of an actor, and his little acting bits here are there for the viewing to directly compare his work behind and in front. It's also quite curious that this film is released now, just two weeks after Hawke co-star and probable friend Julie Delpy released her "2 Days in Paris." Its even more curious how Hawke and Delpy seem to owe a lot of their work together in "Before Sunrise," and "Before Sunset," as well as Richard Linklater's writing. Both films are about the relationships of two people-in "2 Days in Paris" it was the end of the one, and in "The Hottest State" it's about the whole one.
When Mark Webber's William Harding first meets Sarah, he doesn't know what it is that he's feeling. But he says simply "At 20, I did not meet the girl that I was to grow old with, and by 21 I was heartbroken." This could probably give you an idea about what direction the film goes in, and if it hasn't that you really need to work harder at pay attention. They meet in a bar-she is a musician and he is an actor- and he is instantly smitten. She seems to be too, but maybe not as hard. And they start a loose relationship. She moves in with him until the lease on her apartment starts, and together they paint her apartment when the time comes. And when he gets an acting job in Mexico the two of them go together, igniting six days of pure passion. But then the inevitable happens, and they go back to their realistic lives, where she begins to reconsider things. She wants to go back to the reason why she moved to New York-to be on her own, and she doesn't want a relationship to muddle that up. And as William tries to find a way to get her back, he considers his father and why he never contacted him for years and years after his mother took him out of Texas.
Hawke's script, based off of his own novel of the same name, does a great job depicting a relationship from beginning to the ultimate end. There is that awkward beginning, the more heated middle, and then the final bout of chaos where you know that it'll end badly. Most of the film is Mark Webber-a relatively unknown actor from glass shards like "Bomb the System," and great work like "Storytelling," and he does some good work in "Broken Flowers,"-and Catalina Sandino Moreno-a great young actress that blew everyone away in "Maria Full of Grace." The entire film relies on their chemistry and without it "The Hottest State" would have been a bust. But the two bring such life and energy into their characters. Supporting work by Michelle Williams and Laura Linney do not seem to really put as much effort in their characters, or perhaps they are just underwritten. Williams appears just as a foil to the Sarah character, and Linney-as William's mother-is there in two scenes to spit out a few cliched words of wisdom. But it all has a heart.
I think Hawke screwed up the final scene by putting himself in the movie as William's father, and while he worked in the two or three scenes that he popped up in throughout in flashbacks-saying things like "Just remember. . . I'm not the one leaving Texas." Hawke plays the character with zero emotion, and his chemistry with Webber in that scene is almost not there at all. I would expect that Hawke would know what to do-the father character is his own creation in both novel and book form-but he just isn't a very good actor. His direction on the other hand is fantastic, and there are several neat shots. The music in the film is quite good as well, even though it was so blatantly obvious that Catalina Sandino Moreno was not singing during her music scenes. The dubbing was distracting.
Despite being overlong, and lagging in the middle, "The Hottest State" is still an effectively told story of a relationship from its promising beginning to its sad and somber conclusion. And even though it ends on a down note, "The Hottest State" is somewhat hopeful. William will be a stronger person after his ordeal with this woman, and the next time he falls in love-as his mother predicts "many times"-may go a little smoother because of it.