THE HOTTEST STATE

R
Reviews

Remember those stories and poems you wrote as a teenager? The ones you’re embarrassed to read these days because they’re so full of mushy sentimentality and self-absorbed angst? Well, Ethan Hawke has made a movie out of his youthful musings, and it’s as cringe-worthy as the stuff you penned back in high school.

Based on his 1997 novel of the same name, published when Hawke was 26, The Hottest State tells the simple story of actor William (Mark Webber, annoyingly mannered) and his love affair with singer/songwriter Sara (Catalina Sandino Moreno, hot-looking but bland). They meet cute in a New York bar, quickly move in together, then spend a torrid week in a Mexican hotel room, after which William stays south of the border to make a film, while Sara goes back to the Apple and her musical career.

Then William returns home, and the craziness begins. Sara has decided she doesn’t really want a boyfriend, that she needs to concentrate on her singing. William won’t take no for an answer and begins to call her at all hours of the day and night, show up at her door at inopportune times, and generally make a pest of himself. None of this really works, but after a visit to his estranged father (Hawke), who’s living in Texas, William seems to mature almost overnight, and finally comes to accept that he and Sara are splitsville for good.

Stories like this one have been told many times before, but rarely with such self-absorption. The Hottest State is filled to the brim with talk, talk, talk, much of it of the navel-gazing, psychotherapeutic variety, a little of which goes a very long way. The film is pretentious in the way in which only first love, and bad writing, can be, and all too often sinks into dialogue that is unintentionally funny. Hawke, who has never been able to overcome his inner pomposity, is in love with the sound of his own voice, which is why way too many scenes seem to go on forever, making the film’s running time appear much longer than it really is.

And he’s not helped by his stars. Webber is one of those slobby, hairy slacker types who seem better fit for a Judd Apatow comedy than a film about love. Besides, his character is so needy and annoying, you just want to smack him. Moreno, who was so good in Maria Full of Grace, is lovely, and her English is nearly accent-free, but she seems distant and distracted throughout the film. Maybe she’s wondering how she got into this mess.