Film Review: Hick

Disjointed drama about a 13-year-old girl from a small town who falls into danger trying to hitchhike to Las Vegas shows that the era of the redneck road flick isn’t over, but by God should be.

There should generally be something to like about a film in which a teenage girl trying to decide whether or not to hitchhike to Las Vegas makes up a pro and con list, and includes under the cons: “Might die.” However, that same film also gives said girl a hand cannon of a revolver in the opening scenes that she plays with obsessively for about five minutes and then is conveniently forgotten about (in spite of all the dangerous scrapes she gets into) until the very end of the film. If that was the only major dramatic defect in Derek Martini’s misbegotten road movie Hick, then it could be called a wash. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Chloë Grace Moretz plays Luli, the 13-year-old with the gun who hits the road when she just can’t handle life at home anymore. It’s understandable, given that Dad is a skeevy drunk and Mom is, well, played by Juliette Lewis and all that entails. In her few scenes, Lewis brings the big hair and brassy cluelessness to the amalgamation of redneck affectations so beloved by girl/car/gun indie flicks of the 1990s which Martini’s film so unfortunately resembles. While everything in the movie’s opening, from Luli’s trashy birthday party in a bar (Thanks, Mom) to the heavy-handed fanciful narration that she’s saddled with, is all a bit too much, there’s nothing here that couldn’t have been salvaged. But then the story really begins and all hope goes out the window.

Things go wrong for the hitchhiking Luli with her first ride. Eddie (Eddie Redmayne) is a limping ex-cowboy who seems oddly preoccupied with Luli’s revealing outfit and her brusque manners. Several extremely uncomfortable minutes later, Luli hops out and in short order is picked up by another disturbed soul. Glenda (Blake Lively, playing her heart out) is some sort of blow-dried, deep-fried country con artist who is perfectly happy to have Luli along for the ride, as long as she can pull her weight in the occasional scam. One dead convenience-store clerk later (they don’t seem to have natural life spans in these films, do they?), Glenda is trying to keep Luli from full freakout mode, though the cocaine they’ve been sharing is probably not helping with the paranoia. In a matter of hours since leaving the house, Luli has been subjected to much of the worst that the world can throw at her, and it’s only the beginning.

Hick is based on a novel by Andrea Portes (who also wrote the screenplay), and it likely read better on the page. There, Luli’s flights of fancy and the frequently baffling twists of plot might have come off effectively as a teenager’s confused, impressionistic take on a harsh world. In Martini’s hands, it just registers as confused. Luli bounces from one incoherently imagined episode to the next—an excruciating sequence in the house of a rich man Glenda is trying to romance goes for a good ten minutes without making one iota of sense. Even Luli’s character is highly unfocused; though she’s initially obsessed with the idea of going to Las Vegas, that mission is forgotten practically the minute she’s out the door. Additionally, in the hands of a more deft filmmaker, the queasiness surrounding the underage Luli and all the men who seem to have eyes for her might have been less damaging to the overall enterprise.

When Asia Argento shot The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, a somewhat similar redneck gothic phantasmagoria, she embraced the story’s preposterousness and raged full-bore through its many horrors. Hick is less sure of itself, squandering fine performances by almost everybody involved (a marvelous, truncated cameo by Rory Culkin in particular) and leaving viewers just about as adrift as its spunky but addlebrained heroine.