The problem with young love, the kind that afflicts teenagers and those in their early twenties, is that it's too complicated and overwhelming an experience to be properly articulated by those going through it. Understanding and, more importantly, appreciating the vagaries of the human heart is much too complex for most youthful lovers (nor would they want to waste precious time dissecting and pondering relationships forged out of curiosity and white-hot attraction). The problem with adults reflecting back upon young love is that they do so through a romanticized fog, blissfully editing out the difficulties and boredom so that they're left with a singular, purifying experience.
Unless, of course, that adult is Ethan Hawke. Suffocated by its own pretensions and almost insufferably plodding, The Hottest State, adapted from Hawke's novel by the actor himself, is a grimly poetic narrative about William Harding, a struggling actor (Mark Webber) prone to using Tennessee Williams for pick-up lines and Sarah (the always luminous Catalina Sandino Moreno), a spirited singer/songwriter trying to make it big in New York City. The pair engage in an intellectually feisty and sexually charged relationship that endures a series of ups and downs, including an extended sojourn in Mexico.
Unfortunately, while Webber certainly nails that specific mid-to-late-twenties insouciance and slight grunginess, evoking a bohemian brainiac who just wants to hone his craft and be loved, Moreno is given little to do outside of being mysterious and preternaturally gifted at singing songs that somehow reveal her state of mind and help advance the plot a bit. It's all just a bit too on the nose to really engage you on an emotional level -- Hawke is so determined to evoke a specific moment in life that the film becomes an exercise in style, rather than substance (a particularly choice irony, given its literary origins). Having not read "The Hottest State," I can't vouch for it as a book, but one would hope if you're adapting a novel you wrote, you could certainly spark it to life onscreen.
Once The Hottest State draws to a close, you'll only be likely spurred to seek out the fantastic soundtrack -- overseen by Norah Jones' cohort Jesse Harris (who has a bit role in the film), it's stocked full of wonderful artists from Feist to Willie Nelson -- than turn inward and examine your own life and loves. It's not a film that fails outright, but rather is far too wrapped up in itself to let viewers in. Kind of like, well, a self-absorbed twentysomething.
Dusty, sun-baked and yet strangely vivid, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks as great as it probably ever will. The more lowly-lit scenes seem a bit grainy, but sharpness and clarity, overall, is acceptable; when the film moves to the more exotic locations, the colors' richness becomes more apparent.
The stunning, country-rock score and fantastic selection of new songs by such artists as Cat Power, Feist, Norah Jones and Willie Nelson (among others) are given lush life in this Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Dialogue is rendered clearly with no distortion or drop-out, although there are also optional English subtitles.
Hawke, along with director of photography Christopher Norr, producer Alexis Alexanian, editor Adriana Pacheco and composer Jesse Harris, sit for a relaxed, informative commentary track. Also on board, "Straight to One," a 21 minute, 29 second short film from 1995 written and directed by Hawke, a theatrical trailer for The Hottest State and a trailer gallery.
Once writer/director Ethan Hawke's The Hottest State draws to a close, you'll only be likely spurred to seek out the fantastic soundtrack -- overseen by Norah Jones' cohort Jesse Harris (who has a bit role in the film), it's stocked full of wonderful artists from Feist to Willie Nelson -- than turn inward and examine your own life and loves. It's not a film that fails outright, but rather is far too wrapped up in itself to let viewers in. Kind of like, well, a self-absorbed twentysomething. Rent it.