The Austin Chronicle


Not rated, 103 min. Directed by Ethan Hawke. Starring Maya Hawke, Laura Linney, Christine Dye, Rafael Casal, Philip Ettinger, Cooper Hoffman, Steve Zahn, Vincent D'Onofrio.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 31, 2024

Maya Hawke has a captivating voice – a lazy Susan from melodious to raspy and back again – which is lucky as you’ll have lots of time to admire it in this dreamy picture of the Southern writer Flannery O’Connor, directed by Hawke’s dad, Ethan. Her Flannery speaks almost ceaselessly, typically in service of crafting a narrative. On a train and at a party, she imagines stories inspired by the people around her. In letters, she details her struggles following a lupus diagnosis to her friend, the poet Robert Lowell, with whom Hawke and his co-writer Shelby Gaines imagine a love connection. In direct address, she speaks to God, about her crisis of faith and attempts to reconcile her illness with her literary ambitions. And in her short stories, which the film reenacts with a terrific klatch of actors I came to think of as the Ethan Hawke Players (some of whom also appeared in his excellent docuseries The Last Movie Stars), Flannery narrates the action as it plays out on screen.

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” and “Good Country People” are some of the stories adapted here, and Maya Hawke appears in them as well. The filmmakers do subtle work framing these short story vignettes as Flannery in the act of authorship, rewriting a line or startling from the violence of her own imagination. It tracks, then, that she picture herself in featured roles, often as characters that demonstrate essential aspects of O’Connor (her faith, her ailments). Amusingly, her mother Regina (played by Laura Linney) appears in the fiction vignettes too, in different guises, most of them villainous.

If that all sounds a little meta, then you’ve hit the nail on the head. Indeed, the film opens with a black & white trailer for a made-up movie, one based on O’Connor’s short story “The Comforts of Home.” For nailing the sensationalistic aesthetics of the era’s coming attractions, it’s a hoot; in setting up the film’s blurry double life as biography and adaptation both, it’s a good head start. It also hammers home right away that Wildcat will be a far richer experience for audiences already familiar with O’Connor’s work. For neophytes, there’s still much to enjoy – cinematographer Steve Cosen’s painterly framing, exuberant scenery chewing (Linney makes a meal out of one vignette’s rotted teeth) – but the thematic resonance between story and storyteller gets a little lost when you’re only working off the reenactments’ CliffsNotes.

Read Richard Whittaker's interview with Ethan Hawke.

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.