Aug 20, 2007

On The Hottest State

Although I drive past the corner of Bedford Avenue and Broadway (the Brooklyn one) on a daily basis, I’ve yet to encounter two hipsters whose cultivated inauthenticity is quite as palpable and grating as Catalina Sandino Moreno and Mark Webber’s couple in Ethan Hawke’s overlong and mildly indulgent adaptation of his own source material, “The Hottest State”. Yes, Ethan is the bard of young love yet again, yet one cant help but think that he should be leaving this sort of stuff to the Bujalski’s, Katz’s, and Swanberg’s. “Before Sunset” this is not and despite the participation of an ex “Dawson’s Creek” star, the film remains watchable largely because of Chris Norr’s moist, hyper saturated camerawork and some moments that verge on emotional resonance. Sadly most of these aforementioned moments get drowned by Jesse Harris’ overripe soundtrack of tunes performed by an all-star lineup of indie crooners (Cat Power, M Ward, Colin Oberst) that are sure to attract, well, someone.

Webber plays a young actor on the verge of success, not unlike the kid himself (wait until you see him in “Weapons”, the best little secret at Sundance this year), who falls for a Hispanic songstress (Moreno) he meets in a bar one night while out for drinks with his Ex (Michelle Williams). He walks her home and discovers that she’s squatting across the street. She tells him not to smoke because she’s thinking about kissing him. Blamo, like that they’re screwing like jack rabbits and painting her new apartment blue. They take a trip to Mexico pre-Cuaron movie for more loving, but surely, break-ups and early twenties angst lie around the corner. The fact that they know this solemn fact all too well (they’ve seen “Before Sunset/rise”) seems to be no reason for avoiding it, perhaps the movie’s most authentic move.

The central romance works well enough I suppose and Webber is really convincing when he’s hanging out by a telephone, post break up #1, tormented by the prospect of calling her. He’s even better when he’s complaining to his mother about his cluelessness concerning the proper tenor for his masculinity. Yet, what’s really our way in with this guy? He exhibits the traits of a flaky, self involved, struggling Brooklyn artist, but the studied soullessness is replaced by an achy earnestness this humble author didn’t quite buy, at least not from Webber. Catalina fares a bit better, but she’s not the focus of the narrative and she seems a little too serene and accessible for beautiful girl in those sultry red coats and purple knit caps, especially when she constantly claims to have come to the city not to have a boyfriend.

Oh and wait… Neither of these working class characters would have there own spacious apartments in Williamsburg! This movie needs to get some roommates, uncomfortable ones at that.

And why all the back-story? Mom (Laura Linney, doing her best to make the best out of a bad situation) relocated with the boy to New Jersey and settled into a life of working class mediocrity as a college textbook saleswoman, while dating the real life director’s best friend (Frank Whaley), whose scenes have largely been cut from this already way too long, one hundred and seventeen minute endeavor. I’m sure Ethan called an apologized. Is it really necessary for Mr. Hawke to pop in and out of flashbacks and the diegetic narrative as our up and coming actor/young lover/author surrogate’s father, a Texas cowboy who has remarried and settled his seed on the home soil? He’s a mere ten years older than Webber, who could probably pass for thirty if he wanted to. They didn’t even rock the aging makeup in the scenes within the diegesis. Its not quite as jarring as the minute age difference between Lansberry and Harvey in “The Manchurian Candidate” or Bancroft and Hoffman in ‘The Graduate”, but the comparisons are silly; Frankenheimer and Nichols are always in control of their material, where as Mr. Hawke can’t seem to see the forest for the trees.