Hick (United States, 2011)May 13, 2012
One of the most positive comments that can be made about Hick is that it advances Chloe Grace Moretz's claim to be one of the best young actresses emerging into today's spotlight. Her roles have been numerous and diverse - a vampire in Let Me In, a superhero wannabe in Kick Ass, a Scorsese "sidekick" in Hugo. In Hick, a twisted coming-of-age story set in the late 1970s, she is a sexually precocious 13-year old who becomes a victim. Echoes of the creepy misfire Hounddog, which similarly sexualized a young Dakota Fanning, are coincidental but obvious.
Hick wants to come across as trippy and offbeat but its bizarre, surreal approach is more off-putting than effective. As with Hounddog, the narrative features the rape of an underage girl (it occurs off-screen but is no less disturbing for not being shown) and the movie enters a death spiral of hard-to-swallow contrivances thereafter. The central character arc is that of a bored teenager striking out on her own, being victimized by an obsessed stalker, then finding an unexpected wellspring of strength within herself. Hick is a cross between a road movie, a coming-of-age story, and a tale of abuse and molestation.
To say that Luli (Mortez) is a neglected child is to understate the matter. Her father (Anson Mount) is a drunk and her mother (Juliette Lewis) never seems to be around. The day after her 13th birthday, she decides to depart Nebraska for Las Vegas, which seems to her to be the antithesis of the hick town where she has grown up. So, donning her sluttiest garb, she embarks upon her journey, first being picked up by Eddie (Eddie Redmayne), a young cowboy-type with a gimpy leg, then by Glenda (Blake Lively), a strung-out but helpful young woman who seems to have Luli's best interests at heart. It turns out that Eddie and Glenda are acquainted, and he is placed in charge of Luli's welfare. Initially, he is an indifferent guardian but, once he becomes convinced he and Luli have "a connection," his attention becomes dangerous.
Hick navigates its minefield of shifting tones with minimal finesse but the biggest problem is the central character's lack of depth. For a full two-thirds of the movie, Luli is a vacant-headed sexpot with no understanding of one of nature's most basic laws: cause-and-effect. She is defined by her wardrobe, which consists primarily of skimpy outfits, and her dialogue, which includes quotes from Dirty Harry, Star Wars, and Sunset Blvd. Her most beloved possession is the new Smith & Wesson .45 she was given as a birthday gift. It's difficult to identify with such a poorly written individual. Only after her victimization, when her hair has been trimmed and dyed, does she exhibit human traits. Coincidentally, it's at that point in the story that the narrative begins to rely too heavily on contrivances and coincidences. The sheer implausibility of one critical scene causes one to wonder how director Derick Martini and writer Andrea Portes expected us to swallow the climax. It's one of several too-big-to-ignore writing hiccups.
Problems with character identification should not be laid at Moretz's feet; she invests herself in the role to a degree that's at times unsettling. She was 13 when she filmed Hick (the same age as Luli); she looks and acts considerably older. Dakota Fanning was 13 when she made Hounddog and many of the same concerns about the line between legitimate drama and the exploitation of underage actresses apply. Meanwhile, Eddie Redmayne crafts a character so creepy that comparisons to Peter Green would not be out of place; it's hard to believe this is the same actor who portrayed the vanilla narrator in My Week with Marilyn. Blake Lively and Alec Baldwin provide effective support but neither is accorded much screen time. Lively's Glenda comes close to being a legitimate character; Baldwin's Beau feels like a writer's construct, inserted primarily to give the movie an exit path.
There's a sense that Hick might work better as a novel than a movie, where "voice" is easier to achieve, and that's how it began its life. The film's inability to develop Luli into a compelling, sympathetic character early in the proceedings diminishes much of what transpires. The jagged disconnects and credulity-straining narrative developments that punctuate the screenplay create dissatisfaction. Although a catharsis is by no means mandatory in a story like this, Hick's half-hearted attempt to provide one leaves a bad aftertaste. Hick is not being widely distributed, which is probably a wise choice on the part of distributor Phase 4 Films. This is not the kind of effort most viewers will be willing to pay an admission price for.
Hick (United States, 2011)
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Eddie Redmayne, Blake Lively, Alec Baldwin, Juliette Lewis, Rory Culkin, Anson Mount
Screenplay: Andrea Portes, based on her novel
Cinematography: Frank Godwin
U.S. Distributor: Phase 4 Films