More noise than signal

The Hottest State

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

If you don’t have any information to work on (thanks, EIFF! Did the start date of your own film festival come as a surprise to you?), picking what would seem to be the best film available is something of a crapshoot. However, The Hottest State seemed to give top billing to Ethan Hawke, and he’s rarely less than a competent actor. Imagine the surprising non-pleasure awaiting the viewer of this extraordinarily whiny melodrama when they find out that he’s in the film for perhaps three scenes and perhaps as many minutes. Superb!

Of course, he did write and direct the rest of the film, so I can hardly complain about a lack of effort. The bulk of the film concerns William (Mark Webber), an up and coming 21 year old actor who rarely tires of telling us how he hasn’t seen his father since his mother upped sticks from Texas to Noo Yawk when William was eight, leaving Pa (Hawke) behind. He seems a little worried that he’s a touch too hung up on this fact, for which he ought to be applauded for his grasp on the exceptionally obvious.

Still, it’s not all rain on this parade. William is about to fall in love. Like most falls, it ends in bumps and scrapes and crying and pain. Meeting the faintly exotic Sarah (Catalina Sandino Moreno) in a bar, the two embark on a relationship that’s substantially more intense from William’s side than the other. Eventually, this leads to exactly the sort of problems you can imagine perfectly well for yourself without watching the film.

While William descends into a fairly needy spiral of apology and obsession, the gratuitously overwhelming soundtrack is wielded like a truncheon to bludgeon an unsuspecting audience into aural submission. Subtle it ain’t, and good it ain’t. The music, especially in the first hour, often intrude rather uncomfortably over the dialogue, so much so I’m tempted to invoke the dread name of Philip Glass. I’m not exactly sure what the intention was, but if it was to annoy me, it succeeds in spades.

The Hottest State is a perfect way to start off a festival season, full of navel-gazing, self-piteous caterwauling and histrionics. Drama with a capital D, and the sort of characters we can describe as ‘flawed’ and ‘human’, even if they would be completely unable to function in an ordinary society. You might start arguing that New York doesn’t exactly pass as ordinary society, but it would behove us not to enter that particular rathole.

There is some rationale behind the reputation this has previously been garnering on the festival circuit, with fine performances from Webber and Moreno that almost carry off the unwarranted excesses of emotion, but not quite. Similarly decent turns are shown, albeit in vanishingly small doses, from Ethan Hawke and Laura Linney. As far as this little sub-genre of overcooked relationship dramas go, it’s amongst the best, and I’ll concede my view of this film is tainted more by the sub-genre it belongs to than any inherit lack of quality of this particular example.

Still, there’s little escaping the fact that this film concerns itself almost exclusively with characters full of the sort of sophomoric whining that makes one wish John Wayne would run in and tell them to cowboy the hell up, or that Stone Cold Steve Austin would run in and suplex them through a table. You fell in love then it fell apart. Just you, me and the rest of the world, pal. There’s nothing any more special about your pain than mine, or the next guy, or that girl over there. We’re all fragile, we’re all strong, from one moment to the next. There’s nothing in here we haven’t seen, or more importantly felt before, which to all intents and purposes means we have already seen this film before watching it. It will either reopen he wounds for you to wallow in, or wish you could move the characters through their current state until they’ve relearnt how to function and are somewhat less pathetic. Either way, it’s hardly something that you need to care about one way or the other.