‘Hick’ is a strange, occasionally affecting mess
Directed by Derick Martini
Written by Andrea Portes
There ought to be a place for films in which young children are graphically exposed to the evils of the world. The problem is that if those films are mishandled in the least, the average audience member will feel like a child pornographer just by paying money to watch them. Derick Martini doesn’t mishandle every scene in Hick, but he blows enough of them to make any audience uncomfortable and a little bit dirty.
Chloe Grace Moretz (Hit Girl from Kick-Ass) plays Luli, a 13-year-old Nebraska girl caught between a pair of drunken, battling parents who are making the 1980s miserable for her. So she runs away, hitchhiking up Interstate 80 with a plan to go to Las Vegas. But her encounters with the crippled cowboy Eddie (Eddie Redmayne) and conwoman Glenda (Blake Lively) quickly send her on a different path.
Glenda has Luli snorting cocaine before they’ve even been on screen ten minutes together, which is the first hint that things are going to turn even uglier later on. Give Lively credit for throwing herself into the role, looking skankier and more unrecognizable than in The Town and delivering the wistful look that turns lines like…
Here, try this [Luli’s first hit of cocaine]. Better you find out about it this way, instead of some man giving it to you and calling it love.
…into dramatic dynamite. However her accent is atrocious, as are most of the accents in the movie; apparently Nebraska is full of Texans.
Moretz is far and away the best part of the film. Rather like Natalie Portman in The Professional, she has a strange combination of innocence and cynicism, aware of her own sexuality but completely unprepared to wield it in the adult world. When she asks for a second hit of cocaine, and her face shows how easily she could enter a long, painful decade of becoming Glenda, it’s a truly haunting moment.
As Hick gets darker and darker in its second act, Moretz is up to the acting challenge, but Martini fails her. Luli is a damaged-enough character that it’s possible to see Glenda as a nightmarish mother figure and Eddie as a twisted love interest. However, self-esteem that low should be an epic thing, the most important part of this girl’s entire life, and Martini’s direction doesn’t sell it. The cocaine scene mentioned above is followed by a convenience store robbery played as broad slapstick comedy, badly mangling the movie’s tone, and that is not the first time Hick whips between serious and silly.
It’s possible that the source novel from Andrea Portes (who also wrote the screenplay) is simply unfilmable. Perhaps only an omniscient narrator can take an audience deep enough inside Luli’s head that this strange tone makes sense. Give Martini credit for trying, and for drawing a performance so good out of Moretz that he has a chance to succeed. In the end, however, Hick is merely a grotesque curiosity, a queasy attempt at art.