The Movie Review: 'The Hottest State'

Author's note: The movie The Hottest State, which had a limited opening several weeks ago, was supposed to be released more broadly two weeks ago. A few days before the opening, though, the studio announced that the film was being delayed, and would be released the subsequent week. Early last week, it was again delayed, with a planned opening this Friday. I double-checked with the studio that this date was certain and, when assured it was, finished this review. Then, a couple of days ago, the studio announced that this Friday was off, too, and that a new release date was "to be determined."

That's a long way of saying that, if you're looking for a movie to see this weekend, you can skip this review. The Hottest State is almost certainly not playing at a theatre near you. But, as it happens, that's the single nicest thing I have to say about the film.

Directed by Ethan Hawke. Co-starring Ethan Hawke. Adapted by Ethan Hawke from the autobiographical novel by... Ethan Hawke. If these words, which describe The Hottest State, do not fill you with dread, you're made of sterner stuff than I.

Like many people, I've generally found Hawke to be a personable enough onscreen presence, but something in his more evidently autobiographical roles--in Reality Bites, say, or Before Sunrise and Before Sunset--has given rise to ungenerous thoughts. Is he, perhaps, a little too convinced that his life experiences hold profundities from which we might all profit? Does he share his characters' maddening trait of explaining that, yes, he knows he's being a bit of a jerk--as if that ostentatious self-awareness gets him off the hook for being a jerk in the first place?

The Hottest State suggests the answer is an emphatic yes. The story of Hawke stand-in William Harding (Mark Webber), who moves to New York, falls in love with a girl, gets a place with her, gets dumped by her, and insists on telling us how it makes him feel for 117 minutes (trust me, you'll be counting them, too), it may be the most tiresome film of the young millennium.

The tone is set early, when William meets the beautiful Sarah (Catalina Sandino Moreno from Maria Full of Grace) in a bar. First, he tells her, "My heart is gold. What will you give me for it?" Moments later, he confesses, "I'm an actor, so I'm totally full of shit." And so it goes for the rest of the film: The earnest declaration of unfathomable emotion, followed by an admission that, yeah, I know, that must sound like an idiotic cliché. If William (and Hawke) could ever remain in that latter, rueful mood for more than 90 seconds at a time, the film might be able to go somewhere. But, for William, such stabs at wisdom and self-knowledge are basically cons, ways to buy a little more time to sell Sarah (and us) on further ecstatic declarations: "Since I met you, I can't operate in the world"; "She was human, the most human person I ever met, and that was sexy."

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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