The Hottest State

The Hottest State


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

This so easily could have wallowed. Directed and written by Ethan Hawke, based on his novel about a 20-year-old Texan actor trying to make it in New York, the danger of self indulgence is strong. Hawke comes from Texas and is an actor and once was 20-years-old. Hey ho!

The opening is confusing. A narrative voiceover talks of “my mother and father” when the scene is of a couple of young guys picking up two pretty girls and talking about going to Vegas. It is only later that we meet the narrator, William (Mark Webber), the 20-year-old actor in New York. One of the pretty girls was his mom who grows up into Laura Linney (terrific performance) and one of the young guys was his dad who grows up into Ethan Hawke (skinny and intense).

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There are many strands to the movie, giving it a layered effect, as if the clichés are not clichés any more, because nothing can be taken for granted, especially love. Hawke’s writing is hot on the money, as close as you know to the false bravado and insecure hope of a lost boy. William’s mind is so far from being made up, it positively pleads for an anchor. Being this young in a profession that demands you inhabit the persona of an imaginary character, who may be totally different to you, is like playing hide-and-seek with sanity.

The Hottest State – that’s Texas – is an intelligent love story, which means it’s not easy. William meets Sarah (Catalina Sandino Moreno) in a bar. She’s an aspiring singer, determined and ambitious, with a definite goal, unlike William, who swivels from one objective to another. “I’m nervous all the time,” he tells her. “I don’t know why.”

She won’t sleep with him. Not at first. “If we have sex, I’ll fall in love with you,” she says. That’s what he wants, of course, but does not understand why she is afraid of commitment, or can’t handle surprises. He’s a joker; he’s funny like a kid. She’s serious, grown up and avoids self analysis. “Some day, Sarah,” he says, “you are going to have to talk to me.”

Webber is so good at conveying the untethered energy of a no-longer-teenager who hasn’t learnt the nuances of twentysomething fakery, half way between a boy and a man, untutored in charm school and desperate for guidance. Love is like smoke; you can’t hold it. Everyone comes from somewhere, carrying baggage. William learns that passion contains the germ of its own destruction because it cannot be repeated and cannot be owned. Things break; things change. He asks his mother, “How does a man behave with a woman?”

Whether this is autobiographical or not matters less than Hawke’s uncanny ability to reflect emotional insecurity with dialogue that speaks from the real. It’s no use banding about words like “dysfunctional” and “neurosis”, because life doesn’t come with neat corners.

And neither does this.

Reviewed on: 22 Aug 2007
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The Hottest State packshot
Love bites a 20-year-old Texan actor in New York.
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Director: Ethan Hawke

Writer: Ethan Hawke, based on the novel by Ethan Hawke

Starring: Mark Webber, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Laura Linney, Ethan Hawke, Sonia Braga, Dave Afton, Michelle Williams, Josh Zuckerman

Year: 2006

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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