Walkouts are common at film festivals, especially at press and industry screenings. Why waste your valuable time watching a movie if something better could be about to start in the next auditorium? Walkouts tend to occur for one of two reasons: 1) the film is so divisive that it offends the sensibilities of some viewers and they simply can’t continue on. Those tend to be the good movies, or at least the ones worth seeing through to the end; or 2) the film is such a dull, ill-conceived messed that there’s no end in sight to the tedium. Hick is latter. I don’t walkout on movies, but I was so bored with Derick Martini’s wretched coming-of-age tale that I started counting walkouts just to stay awake.
Lily (Chloe Moretz) has just turned thirteen and lives the lifestyle of a hick as imagined by people who have driven through the heartland and occasionally watched a daytime talk show. If you think I’m exaggerating, in Lily’s house she has a working TV sitting on top of a broken TV. Apparently Martini and co-writer Andrea Portes (on whose novel the film is based) mistook Jeff Foxworthy jokes as an anthropological study. But Lily’s a smart girl and a big dreamer who feels trapped by her alcoholic parents and when her mother (Juliette Lewis) splits town with a richer man, Lily takes that as her cue that it’s time to make her escape as well. Packing the gun she received at her birthday party (which was in a bar! Oh, those earthy rednecks), Lily starts hitchhiking to the city that never sleeps in the hopes she can find a sugar daddy who wouldn’t mind going to jail for statutory rape. On her journey, she comes across psychotic gimp cowboy Eddie (Eddie Redmayne), the freewheeling cokehead Glenda (Blake Lively), and other poorly-written characters.
Hick has no idea what it’s doing. It doesn’t even know when and where it’s set other than small Midwestern towns where everyone has an exaggerated southern drawl. Characters rave about well-known hospitals and the world’s biggest ball of barbed wire, which would make sense if the movie were set before 1945. But since Lily can quote Star Wars, the most charitable estimation would set the time no earlier than 1977, and none of the characters are dressed like they live in the 70s, and people dreamt a little bigger than “barbed-wire balls” by then. It may seem a small thing to pick over, but it’s emblematic of the haphazard construction of everything Hick has to offer.
Watching Martini flail around trying to figure out what kind of story would be entertaining if it weren’t such a chore. The script tries to craft Lily as some sort of little lost girl who only wants to be told she’s pretty. It would be tragic if it weren’t cloying and honest if it weren’t so incoherently gross. The film gropes at whether or not it should make Lily a sexual object and as a result comes off as creepy, like a pathetic old man who wonders if the thirteen-year-old on the bus is giving off a vibe because her mid-riff is exposed. If Martini wants to make Lily a Lolita-figure, he should sack up and do it (he would fail but at least there would be some conviction to the storytelling). If he wants to protect this poor, misguided child, then put us on her side. But do not flirt with the idea that “Hey…maybe this child is asking for it.”
This kind of idiotic characterization leads to preposterous interactions. The film doesn’t know whether to make Eddie a badboy Lily finds attractive or a complete raving psycho would cause any rational person run in the opposite direction. I can buy the notion that a self-conscious teenager would be attracted to an attractive, older man who exudes a dangerous personality. What I cannot buy is when Lily watches Eddie beat a guy to death with a kitchen sink and then they go get ice cream. Other intense moments: an argument over the term “Oakie” and using a 7-Up when making a 7-and-7. Those scenes are like a game in an acting class where the participants are challenged to make something completely stupid feel dramatic. For all of the film’s faults, the cast gives it their all and I tip my hat to them for trying.
I wish Martini at least had the courtesy to be laughably bad if he was going to make his movie such a sickening chore. Instead he fills it with the wretched indie coming-of-age score the feature the familiar and tired lone acoustic guitar. That kind of score needed to die ten years ago but I guess hiring one marginally-talented guitarist is cost effective. What doesn’t come cheap are the licensing rights for the Bob Dylan songs the film uses and wastes.
Maybe Martini made a much smarter film than I’m willing to give him credit for. Maybe because he thinks hicks are lazy and stupid, he made a lazy and stupid movie. If that was his intention, then he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. But the truth is that Hick is a trashy soap opera that could care less about characters, pacing, narrative, or even basic human interaction. By the end of Hick, I had counted 33 walkouts. I’m surprised there was anyone left in the theater at all.
For all of our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my TIFF 2011 reviews so far: