William meets Sarah and falls in love. He desperately wants to have sex with her and when it finally happens, things can never be the same again.
When I read Ethan Hawke’s The Hottest State, I was completely unaffected by the story. Hawke’s writing style in this book is very similar to Hemmingway but with more pretentious characters. The story was well crafted and lyrically it was a joy to read but the characters made me feel like I was wasting my time.
The movie, also adapted and directed by Hawke affected me in the same way. The scenes were shot in a very interesting style, and Hawke has proved in the picture that he could have a good future in the industry behind the camera. However, the story is another situation. Hawke has said in interviews that his career goals have nothing to do with acting, and that he would be just as happy to sit in a room and write novels. He also has stated how much he hates the screenplay and he prefers the novel format. That presents one of the biggest problems with this movie.
Hawke said that he was forced to write the screenplay to receive financing for this movie, but when he showed up to make the movie he almost completely made it from the novel itself. That is obvious when watching the movie, as it seems to be simply a series of vignettes with no cohesive story. It becomes difficult to get behind anyone in the movie because all you see it the characters going from one situation to the next, but without doing anything that makes you feel for any one character.
What made Before Sunset and Before Sunrise so successful is that you grow to love the characters Hawke and Julie Delpy play and want to see what they do next, what they talk about next and where their journey might lead them. There is nothing in either the book or the film that makes any of the characters worth caring about. Mark Webber plays William, a character loosely based on Hawke. The fact that William is so insecure and unlikable proves that Hawke is a brave writer. It does not mean that he is good at knowing what is interesting to the reader and viewer though. If this character is too much like Hawke was at that age, I can’t really feel too bad about what happened to him in this story.
Sarah is the girl that William meets and falls in love with. In the book she is described as funny looking but in the movie she is the very attractive Catalina Sandino Moreno. The actress pulls off the coup of playing Sarah exactly as she was in the novel. That is great for her role as an actress, but it makes her character even more dislikeable than the character of William. I admit that Sarah is realistically portrayed as a girl with insecurities and the questions and problems are honestly portrayed. I don’t know why anyone would want to watch that. The biggest problem is that both the characters of William and Sarah seemed to be acting like a couple without ever actually being one.
It is hard to be twenty-one and “in love.” This movie shows the difficulties youngsters face when the weight of the world relies on the importance of sexual intercourse. As someone who has not been twenty-one for many, many years, I can look back on those times and remember how overly important everything seemed at that time. Sex was so important to relationships and maybe that is the problem I have with this story. I know now how ridiculous I acted at that age, how over exaggerated I was when it came to things that really were not that important in my life. This movie is made to make those feelings seem important and I just can’t get into them anymore.
That is not to say there are not positives in the movie. The soundtrack is outstanding. With great songs by Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and, Norah Jones the music is almost a character in the movie itself. The direction was really solid as well as Hawke appeared to learn a lot from working with Richard Linklater and he seemed to know how to make the camera move elegantly. These positives are offset by the script.
The biggest problem with the movie comes from the unlikeable characters. Maybe if they were a little more likeable, I could handle the story of young love. But because William is so shallow minded and Sarah is so insecure, neither were characters that garnered sympathy. When problems eventually arise between William and Sarah they carry no weight. A movie that presents no likeable characters is a failure no matter how pretty it looks. I would hope that next time Hawke works on a film he understands that there is more to the process than just aping the look of Richard Linklater.
The video is presented in 1.85:1 and looks dirty and grainy, which I think might be the look that Hawke was aiming for in this Indie styled movie. In audio you get 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound or Dolby Stereo 2.0. It sounds great, which is good since the music is so important to the film.
There is an audio commentary track with Hawke and the actors from the film. Hawke provides an interesting and informative talk track as he discusses his influences and gives insights into the making of the film.
There is also a short film by Ethan Hawke called Straight to One. It is a black and white short from 1994 that presents two characters that were just married and are talking about having a baby. It is about as pretentious as The Hottest State as we are presented with two people who talk about things so much that they almost talk themselves out of love. It is just hard to watch films filled with insecure, overly neurotic characters. At least in this short the characters work things out when they realize it is better to stop asking questions and just shut up and love each other.