The Hottest State is one of the most inauthentic films I've seen in a long time. Written and directed by Ethan Hawke, and from his own novel no less, the film plays out like some version of hell where everyone is being forced to perform in an acting class skit that will never end. The story follows William (Mark Webber), a 20-year-old aspiring actor who is hanging around the Manhattan bar scene when he runs into Sarah, the girl of his dreams. The casting of Sarah is the movie's fatal flaw. As written, she's an aspiring singer who is gaga over William, but Catalina Sandino Moreno is an actress who, it's clear from the get-go, can't sing a note and worse, seems ready to climb the walls to get away from her co-star throughout the picture. I've seen more sexual chemistry from two doorknobs. Watching this mess, you have to believe that Ethan Hawke, as talented as he is, must have realized he was making a colossal turkey but was too far into the thing to back out.
And that's only the start of it. The Hottest State is structurally odd -- something that's sometimes a necessity in the case of book adaptations, but especially true in this case, since what begins as a romance ultimately takes on the trappings of a thriller in the third act. I won't go into specifics in case you plan to see it for yourself, but let's just say that if the entire movie were on the same wavelength as the third act, I think we'd actually have an interesting, tough little film here. I also think Hawke must have known this too on some level, because it's only in the third act that his personality as a director begins to shine through -- interesting and creative camera choices, powerful acting moments and an earned level of tension that are present only during this part of the movie. The first two-thirds of the film are a cloying, obnoxious romantic fable about two young people bouncing around in Manhattan and down in Mexico, lounging around and pretending, for our benefit, that they actually love each other.