By James Rocchi | The Playlist September 14, 2011 at 2:15AM
Later, there will be a brief discussion of how literature is not film and how some actions and themes do not survive translation from the page to the big screen because our mind can better deal with envisioning them than it can with actually seeing them Before that, though I feel I have to pause and note that "Hick," adapting Andrea Portes' novel for the screen under the direction of Derick Martini ("Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire," "Lymelife"), is one of the most unclean and clammy films I've ever had to endure at a film festival. Not because it was incompetent and not because it deals with violent and sexual material but, rather, because it is both incompetent in general and even more incompetent specifically when it is concerned with violent and sexual material. We're supposed to be watching the cross-country adventures of 13-year-old Luli (Chloe Moretz, who clearly needs to fire both her management and her parents) as she sets out for Las Vegas and leaves her drunkard parents behind in Nebraska. What we get is a chronicle of physical abuse, drug abuse, murder and sexual assault all involving a minor, which then tries to lighten the mood with cutaways to Luli's sketches and a jaunty score with pedal steel guitar accents.
Chloe Moretz is as charismatic and talented as ever, but, much like "Kick-Ass," she is trapped in an idiotically foul and shoddy script. Posing and preening in a tank-top and panties, Luli poses and plays with a gun she was given for her birthday -- quoting "Dirty Harry" and "Sunset Boulevard," winking into the mirror. And indeed, that winking is what undermines "Hick," as the whole film does it. Yes, Luli gets a pistol in the film's first five minutes as a 13th birthday present but -- wink -- she looks so charming brandishing it. Yes, people die, but -- wink -- Luli gets to be happy. Yes, Luli is raped but -- wink -- all we see is rustling leaves in a cornfield, while voice-over suggests that Luli is doing what she must to survive the experience. It's this cowardice on the part of "Hick" -- its insistence on turning ugly matters into a Hallmark card -- that ultimately undoes it. I'm sure that, on the page, Portes' novel reads with poetry and grace and emotion; on-screen, we do not get poetry and grace and emotion. We get a 13-year-old being raped.
The supporting cast is either present for a scene or two -- Juliette Lewis as luli's drunkard mom, Alec Baldwin as the one decent human Luli gets to meet -- or entirely too present, as Eddie Redmayne's sneering sociopath (presumably a big, big fan of Martin Sheen in "Badlands") drags Luli across the west alternating sociopath's charm and brutal violence. Blake Lively plays a party girl who offers Luli hard-headed advice, fashion tips and cocaine; familiar-face character Ray MacKinnon tries to bring a preening patriarch to life, but is hemmed in by the script.
Portis and Martini adapted her novel, and perhaps a less sealed community of creation -- other writers working for director Martini or Martini and Portis writing for another director -- would have avoided some of the film's more grotesque missteps. As it is, Martini's affection for his own work is a demonstration of the fact that, all too often in filmmaking, the question is not "Who wrote this garbage?" but, rather, "Who read this garbage?" Making a film is a Herculean effort, requiring massed sacrifice and collective exertion. I cannot conceive of why any literate person of average intelligence would put that effort into "Hick"'s script.
With its voice-over and faux-Americana soundtrack of pedal steel and twanging banjo, with its phony accents and fake moments, with its ugly insistence on showing the worst of human behavior and intercutting it with road-movie montages and 'comedic' relief of Lively trying to move in her tight dress and heels, "Hick" stands alongside other film-festival laughingstocks and flops like "Houndog" and Joel Schumacher's "Twelve" as a classic example of how not to handle transgressive material involving teens and pre-teens -- and as an object lesson for a young filmmaker in what mis-steps and clumsy errors to avoid. "Hick" was intended to be a calling card for all parties involved to point at as evidence of their talent and bravery; instead, it's a black blot of shame for everyone who had a part in its making. [D-]