The Hottest State
2007, R, 117 min. Directed by Ethan Hawke. Starring Mark Webber, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Laura Linney, Sonia Braga, Michelle Williams, Ethan Hawke.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 21, 2007
The actor Ethan Hawke directed and adapted this movie that’s based on his 1996 novel, so it’s not surprising that there appears to be very little distance between the artist and the material. A less personally absorbed sensibility might have defused some of the film’s narcissistic tone and brightened some of the script. As a story about the first heartbreak of a 20-year-old actor who is at the start of his career in New York City, The Hottest State is destined to a certain degree of self-absorption by the very nature of its subject matter. Artistically inclined males straddling the uncharted gulf between boyhood and adulthood ought to come with warning labels advising of their combustible natures and teetering psyches. Most girls their own age are already hip to the danger signals, and maybe that’s why The Hottest State’s Sarah (Moreno), a singer-songwriter, is reluctant to fall instantly for the head-over-heels devotions of the smitten actor William (Webber). The film is William’s account of their love affair, and apart from a blissful week spent together in Mexico, the romance is mostly one-sided. William struggles to make Sarah love him as much as he loves her, but it’s a loser’s game that grows more off-putting the more desperate he becomes. We’ve all been down the road of unrequited love (or at least know someone who has), and callow William adds nothing new to the repertoire. Curiously, The Hottest State only comes to life when it's in the presence of this duo’s mothers. Sarah’s mom (Braga) and William’s mom (Linney) offer moments of hard-won clarity about the fickleness of love, and their isolated scenes provide the film’s only relief from its lovelorn narcissism. Otherwise, the screenplay adds little to the canon of heartsick cinema. However, there’s a definite charm in watching Webber adopt the physical mannerisms and sartorial style of Hawke and, in the process, become the filmmaker’s indisputable avatar. It’s something we’ve also seen Hawke, the actor, do under the influence of his director Richard Linklater (who has a cameo in The Hottest State) in the films Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Cinematographer Chris Norr finds the authenticity in the New York-area locations, and the music score by Jesse Harris (and tunes by the likes of Willie Nelson and Norah Jones) is also effective. Otherwise, The Hottest State lacks heat. (AFS@Dobie)