The Hottest State

Actor-turned-filmmaker Ethan Hawke's second feature, an adaptation of his own novel about youthful heartbreak, is hobbled by its singularly unappealing lead characters. Shortly before his 21st birthday, aspiring actor William Harding (Mark Webber), a transplanted Texan (Texas being the title's "hottest state"), meets Sarah Garcia (Catalina Sandino Moreno)...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Actor-turned-filmmaker Ethan Hawke's second feature, an adaptation of his own novel about youthful heartbreak, is hobbled by its singularly unappealing lead characters.

Shortly before his 21st birthday, aspiring actor William Harding (Mark Webber), a transplanted Texan (Texas being the title's "hottest state"), meets Sarah Garcia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) in a hipster bar in New York. Sarah, who's just moved from Connecticut to try to make it as a singer, is the mistress of mixed signals: She claims she doesn't want a boyfriend but flirts with Mark, and eventually succumbs to his callow persistence, even going so far as to invite him to join her for dinner with her embittered mother (Sonia Braga, whose waspish pragmatism is a welcome relief from all the adolescent mooning). Meanwhile, William has landed a part in a film of Tennessee Williams' Camino Real, to be shot in Mexico by Alfonso Cuaron. Even though lunch with Mom was less than an unqualified success — having saved for years to put Sarah through college, she resents her daughter for dropping out in the wake of a failed love affair — William persuades Sarah to join him in Mexico City, where they spend a week in bed and almost get married. She then returns home, while he remains behind to film. When William gets back to New York, Sarah has decided they both need some space — cruelly echoing the early scene in which they play-act their inevitable breakup — and William goes into a tailspin of marathon phone messages and the kind of romantic gestures that never fail in romance movies but in real life look a lot like stalking. William wallows extravagantly in his own misery, rebuffing ex-girlfriend Samantha (Michelle Williams) as callously as Sarah rebuffed him and ignoring his supportive but clear-eyed mother's (Laura Linney, who steals the film in just a few brief scenes) tart-tongued advice that life and love aren't fair and he is going to have to get used to it.

Hawke's aim was to explore romantic anguish from a young man's point of view (not quite the innovation he seemed to think), but William — and, for that matter, Sarah — are shapeless, one-note characters defined by selfish, petulant myopia. In a movie about the tragedies of youth, it's a bad sign that the older characters — Sarah's and William's mothers and William's estranged father (Hawke), who decamped when William was 8 and apparently ruined him for life — are infinitely more interesting and articulate, William's frequent voice-over musings notwithstanding. (In English and subtitled Spanish)

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  • Released: 2007
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Actor-turned-filmmaker Ethan Hawke's second feature, an adaptation of his own novel about youthful heartbreak, is hobbled by its singularly unappealing lead characters. Shortly before his 21st birthday, aspiring actor William Harding (Mark Webber), a tr… (more)

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