“Everything’s for a while. For a while is the stuff that dreams are made of, Baby.”
As The Hottest State’s protagonist repeats Kilroy’s line from Tennessee Williams’s Camino Real, it’s evident he’s only memorizing sentences — acquainting his lips and tongue and teeth with the shapes and sounds of the words — not actually contemplating them. If he was, well then there’d probably be no movie, and no book to base it upon.
The Hottest State is Ethan Hawke’s adaptation of his eponymous 1996 novel, an autobiographical fiction. The actor/director/screenwriter/novelist’s stand-in is William, a 20-year-old actor — born in Texas — currently living in New York among other young artists and students (some of whom are obviously fond of regurgitating lectures to desirables outside the theater-cult — “You’ve got religion, and you’ve got sex, and in between is theater. It’s where they meet.”)
When William meets Sarah, a Latina singer-songwriter new to the Big Apple, in a bar, he instantly warns her not to trust anything born from his thespian maw; he’s an actor, therefore he must be full of shit. What’s funny is that Mark Webber, who portrays William (and also starred in Hawke’s Chelsea Walls) is one of those performers who’s uncomfortable to watch because his eyes really do seem to be windows into his soul (think Beck on the cover of Sea Change, but for two hours).
Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno (for Maria Full of Grace) is utterly convincing as the earthy Sarah, who tries time after time to assure William that she doesn’t want a boyfriend — that she came to New York to be alone — but like I said, repeated words don’t sink in with him, and Sarah is eventually worn down. She spends a passionate week with him in Mexico, where they almost marry.
We should all be aware by now that sensitive, immature artists are not people to be played with, not when they’ve declared their undying love, anyway. The Hottest State goes one step further than The Science of Sleep in imagining what would have become of the young lover, had his object of affection feigned to be what he wanted, just for a while, before withdrawing herself.
Hawke confines himself to the small role of William’s estranged father, Vince, and he is appropriately pathetic. For a man of only 36, Hawke has always struck me as particularly weathered, which works to his advantage here.
I understand changes were made in the adaptation, but William’s tale still seems like it was probably better served as a novel, particularly structurally. The only items — outside of several fine performances you probably could’ve pictured in the cinema of your imagination — that justify The Hottest State: The Movie, are its ambient, saturated lighting and set dressing, its pleasing cinematography, and most of all Jesse Harris’s soundtrack, which adds that extra dimension. His songs are performed throughout by artists Willie Nelson, The Black Keys, and Cat Power, to name a few, and lend to the film’s transient, dreamlike quality. If The Hottest State isn’t a movie to watch again and again, it is at least something atmospheric to have on during a party. •
The Hottest State
Dir. Ethan Hawke, writ. Hawke; feat. Mark Webber, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Laura Linney, Michelle Williams, Hawke (R)