If there’s anything nearly as bad as experiencing unrequited love, it’s got to be getting stuck in the middle of somebody else’s unrequited angst. So to sit through a full two hours of The Hottest State and be subjected to twentysomething protagonist William’s (Mark Webber), endless whining, moping and outright tantrums is, to put it mildly, not exactly entertaining.
Perhaps this story directed and adapted from Ethan Hawke’s semi-autobiographical novel about an aspiring actor from Texas scorned in love in NYC, digests better on the page than the screen, large or small. But the endlessly circular romantic highs and mostly lows are thin to begin with, and wear even thinner as the drama plods along.
William carries with him the emotional wounds of a father (Ethan Hawke) who abandoned the family when he was just a small boy. When William hits the big city, he finds some success as an actor, but a rocky romance when he is smitten by free spirit musician Sara (Catalina Sandino Moreno). The very independent minded young woman is increasingly put off by William’s clinging ways, and she eventually ends the romance by observing that his neediness is just that, without any real interest in discovering much about her as a unique person. The same could be said for the audience, which never learns much about Sara.
William in turn callously rejects glamorous Columbia University coed Samantha (Michelle Williams), who adores him. The invisible irony here is that while William is immersed in despair over how insensitive as a female Sara has been by spurning him, he never notices that he is doing the very same as a male to Samantha. Who pretty much abruptly disappears, without the narrative taking stock of any of her pain.
The most vividly etched, darkly comical scenes are surprisingly conveyed by the older generation surrounding these young characters bereft of any chemistry or ‘heated state’ despite their tender years and simmering hormones. Ethan Hawke as the disappointing father and Sonia Braga as Sara’s nutty mom are both splendidly offbeat.
And stealing the show despite her brief cameo moments, is Laura Linney as William’s frustrated mother who has little patience for her son’s self-pitying bids for repeated TLC to soothe his broken heart. At one point she knowingly tells William to just knock it off, and stop taking himself so seriously. There are two things in life that are true, she advises: that people aren’t going to love you back, and that you’re going to die anyway, so why worry about stuff! And most important, that the root of depression is being too self-involved. If only Hawke had taken this character’s advice himself, when writing her into the movie.
Thinkfilm Home Entertainment
DVD Features: Audio Commentary by writer/director Ethan Hawke; Bonus Short: A Short Film, by Ethan Hawke; Deleted Scenes; Theatrical Trailer, and Trailer Gallery.