Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hick [2011]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (1 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

Hick (directed by Derick McMullen, screenplay by Andrea Portes based on her novel by the same name) is a tough appropriately R-rated story about a 13 year-old girl named Luli McMullen (played by Chloë Grace Moretz) from the Nebraskan countryside who runs away from home.

Now why would she do that?  Well, parents take note: Because her parents were arguably world-class losers.  What do I mean?  Well the film opens with Luli's 13th birthday party.  Where is it being held?  In a tavern.  So none of Luli's actual friends are there.  Does she even have any friends?  Instead, the crowd is mostly "regulars" that one would find at a random tavern in a random small town in the American Midwest on a random weekday night.  Ma' brings out a cake with a big "13" candle on it.  Luli dutifully blows the candle out.  Then ma' proceeds to gossip with every woman and flirt with every guy in the establishment while Luli is left to sit alone on a bar stool and draw in her little sketch pad/notebook while pa' slinks back into a booth somewhere in the back of the place and proceeds to drink himself into oblivion.  Oh yes, and what of Luli's big present?  An uncle gives her real Magnum-44 revolver in a gift box with a bow on it.  Fortunately, the family appeared to be too cheap, too broke or both to provide the bullets...

A few days later, when ma' runs off with a traveling salesman and pa' is too drunk/hung-over to care, Luli decides that she's had enough of home and decides to head for the Las Vegas [IMDb].  Why Vegas?  Well growing-up as a latch-key kid on an isolated farm far outside of town with both parents pretty much "doin' their [horribly self-destructive] things" she's probably watched more TV than the norm.  And indeed, while left at the farm alone, again ... an ad comes on the TV saying "Come to Vegas!"  Luli, with her gun in her hand does a few Dirty Harry imitations.  Okay Dirty Harry had been from San Francisco, but the 13 year old isn't particularly concerned about the details.  Frisco or Vegas, who cares?  Anything would be more exciting than being stuck on the farm, already effectively abandoned, while her parents destroy their lives.  So she packs a large purse, yes, takes the revolver with her ... and starts walkin'.

Now clearly one can't possibly hope to walk all the way from Nebraska to Vegas.  So she has to hitchhike.  And with this come the inevitable problems.  On her journey, she takes rides from two drifters/grifters, one a washed-up/injured former rodeo rider named Eddie (played by Eddie Redmayne), the other a 20-something woman named Glenda (played by Blake Lively) who could have also run-away from home when she was a teen.  The story proceeds rather predictably if often heartrendingly from there.

What perhaps makes the story all the more tragic to watch is that Luli has a hobby/talent.  She likes to draw and draws very, very well.  So throughout the story, as often terrible things happen to her, or nearly happen to her, she draws.  And it's not as if she's not aware of the dangers that she faces or the terrible things that both happen to her or nearly happen to her.  But the pictures she draws often seem utterly disconnected from her actual life.  But then there are _also_ pictures that hit what has gone on in her life right on the head.

So what to make of her pictures?   They are the pictures of a 13 year old, but also of someone who's had a very difficult life.  In my mind, her pictures, and her voice-overs talking about many of them are what makes the movie.  And the effect is very, very poignant and very, very sad.

Would I recommend this movie to teens?  Parents, I do believe that the R-rating is definitely appropriate.  Yes the movie is about a teen, but a teen coming from a very troubled situation.  Hence parental judgement here as to whether or not to allow one's own teens to see such a movie is entirely appropriate.  Now the simple/crass -- "sex or violence quotient" isn't particularly high.  There is no nudity, but sex, indeed at times rape is certainly assumed.  There is also one scene in which Eddie probably bludgeoned a man to death.  And yes, the gun eventually does go off.   But beyond all this, the whole "running away from home" theme _could_ give some teens ideas.  On the other hand, the film is often so depressing, disturbing and sad that it may actually serve as a deterrent to kids contemplating running away from home. 

A note about the ending (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT).  Alec Baldwin playing a character named "Beau" comes into the picture near the end to become something a savior figure for Luli.  But by the time we reach that point in the film, most viewers would see his character as almost a "divine intervention" on the part of the film-makers.  Yes, he appears at a point in the story where he is able to pull her out of a path that seems headed toward certain and awful doom.  Yes, he doesn't want or take anything from her and sets her on a path (that doesn't include him) toward hope.  But the jaded viewer could easily imagine that even this almost "divine intervention" (heck his name is "Beau" signifying an "angelic aura...") would still somehow end in disaster or further betrayal.

The message is: kids no matter how bad it is DON'T RUN AWAY FROM HOME.  No matter how bad it is, do what Luli seemed to do in her better moments -- draw (reflect, PRAY).  And as you get older, put the pieces together.  Learn some skills (in school... THAT'S what it's for...), get a job, get independent and THEN "walk away..."  If you just end up doing something foolish/despairing and end-up dead, the Evil One (I'm not kidding) wins ...

Finally, this is the fifth film that I've seen in the last year about wounded/scarred young women from troubled pasts -- Martha, Marcy May Marlene [2011], Under My Nails [2012], Girl in Progress [2012] to say nothing of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo [2011] and now Hick.  A second tier of recent films touching on the same theme could include Country Strong [2010], Sucker Punch [2011] and possibly even the recent Mexican film Has Anyone Seen Lupita? [2011].  Are we seeing the emergence of a new kind of "femme fatale?"  One which is perhaps more authentic -- not necessarily a "danger to men" but one who is simply being ground-up/damaged by upbringing and circumstance?

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