Theo Zenou swoons at the drifting lovers at the center of Derick Martini’s adaptation of Andrea Portes’ debut novel. Available for rental on iTunes and other VOD platforms.

hick

Hick is a vital, necessary picture – one that pulses with life at every line, and offers a romantic, but unglamorous, drifting for love. Because that’s who the characters are: drifters, misfits, and outsiders. They are those you see pumping gas on your way to Vegas but disregard, they are the ones that sit at the very rear of the bars – by themselves. Chloe Grace Moretz stars as Luli, she’s barely a teenager and already, Luli is dream-restricted, wishing to spend her life married to some rich folk. She’s the ultimate materialist product of contemporary America. She watched too much Remington Steele (ironically, Blake Lively – the star of the shallow fluff, though at times subversive, Gossip Girl – co-stars in the film, and she firmly establishes herself as one of the very most promising actresses of her generation).

But impulsively, Luli leaves home and this journey will “make” her as much as she will “make” it. Setting out for Las Vegas, seeking the commercial love – she’ll instead find an edgier, more rock ’n’ roll one. After all, this film is set in America – not the United States, not NYC or LA or any of the town that gets initials – but a classic America, the one in which Elvis and Marilyn are watching over every diner.

Director Derick Martini and writer Andrea Portes – adapting her first novel – captured the textures of Americana, and cinematographer Frank Godwin shooting 35mm anamorphic perfectly, irresistibly puts into images the emotional universe Martini orchestrates. The colors are washed-out, giving the picture a timeless feel. This film could take place in the 80s or 70s, and for all we know this could even be the 60s if it didn’t reference Dirty Harry (in a great mirror scene, crossing Eastwood lines & Bickle’s persona, with the sweetness of Moretz, undeniably on par with Elle Fanning as the best of their age range). Yes, there’d be some minor anachronisms if Hick took place in, say, 1961 (accessories mostly) – but the appeal of the world that has been recreated is such it truly echoes back to the feel of Huston’s The Misfits or Malick’s Badlands. The early scenes between Luli and the charismatic Eddie Reymane, in a star-making turn, have hints of the first half-hour of Bonnie and Clyde. And the poetic-realist use of the American landscape is as controlled as that of Days of Heaven.

But whereas Malick indulges in evoking – too much evoking killing the narrative – Martini never loses grip of his characters – they are the one carrying the multi-layered narrative. He knows that plot is a device and the heart of storytelling lies in knowing your characters well enough so that when confronted with life’s exigencies, they will behave in certain, idiosyncratic ways, which are theirs and theirs alone. Because that is who they are. Martini, in his sophomore effort, proves that he has great faith in the medium (and art) of film: something certain filmmakers never obtain in a lifetime… In that, he is close to his mentor, Martin Scorsese (the former produced Martini’s first, autobiographical film Lymelife – a delicate, subtle coming-of-age tale) because both filmmakers seem to share the same wealth of inspirations, and understanding that films are improved upon by intertextuality and yet originate through personal and spiritual expression.

I have an instinct that 15 years from now, we’ll be comparing filmmakers to Martini. In other words, he is here for the long run, and it’s a pretty exciting feeling to know we have another great director to add onto the list, and more importantly, to watch and… re-watch. This is only the beginning; Hick is to Martini’s filmmography what Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is to Scorsese, or what Mickey One is to Arthur Penn. The film that takes them out of their comfort zone, sees them do brilliantly and foreshadows their moment of “revelation” to the world: Taxi Driver or Bonnie and Clyde. 

That nowadays such a feat as Hick is not only tried – but also achieved – deserves high praise; one that fellow film critics have replaced by accusations of pedophilia or trash. When they should have realized and appreciated the anti-materialist subtext, they accused Martini of objectifying his 13-year old lead. When they should have accused Gaspar Noé (at least partially) of trash, they deemed the story of a little girl looking for love immoral.

There’s great morality at work here. There’s the belief that one day love will find us – if we don’t find it before. Hick exudes the rough-edged feeling of being alive. No matter the cost.