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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Earlier this week, our film critic, Bob Mondello, told us about all the good movies that have come out at the end of this summer. This time of year is usually a dead zone, cinematically speaking. Well, today, Bob reviews an example of 2007's hot weather trend. It is called, appropriately enough, "The Hottest State."

BOB MONDELLO: William is a 20-year-old actor from Texas. He's moved to New York to get work and to get a life. But he is socially inept, so getting a life is giving him trouble. When he spots Sarah, a beautiful singer in a bar, his pick-up line involves "Star Trek" and replicants - an awkward enough start that Sarah just stares at him.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hottest State")

Mr. MARK WEBBER (Actor): (As William) Do you speak English?

Ms. CATALINA SANDINO MORENO (Actress): (As Sarah) Yes.

Mr. WEBBER: (As William) Oh, good. I was worried you didn't understand a word I said.

Ms. MORENO: (As Sarah) Don't worry, you're not that complicated.

Mr. WEBBER: (As William) What?

Ms. MORENO: (As Sarah) You're not that complicated.

Mr. WEBBER: (As William) Ah. Thanks.

MONDELLO: Not quite a compliment, but still.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hottest State")

Ms. MORENO: (As Sarah) Are you nervous?

Mr. WEBBER: (As William) No, I'm not nervous. Why would I be nervous? Okay, I'm nervous all the time. I don't know why.

Ms. MORENO: (As Sarah) Me too.

MONDELLO: William walks Sarah home, can't get her out of his head, and feels, in that insane way of someone who has just fallen head over heels, as if his life is just beginning.

After much feverish wooing, he convinces Sarah to move in with him, and she agrees, provided they don't have sex. So he lies next to her in bed just staring at her sleeping, mooning over his good fortune.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hottest State")

Mr. WEBBER: (As William) It was Wednesday when we met, Saturday when I asked her to move in, and by Sunday, there were flowers in my apartment and humus in my refrigerator. I don't remember waking up that Sunday. I don't think I ever slept. I just sat there thinking. Goddamn, this must be what praying is like.

MONDELLO: With William this puppyish and eager, Sarah's reserve starts to melt, and soon their romance feels as charged as it would in real life - possibly for a reason.

Ethan Hawke, an actor who is himself from Texas by way of New York and Hollywood, is the guy who wrote the semi-autobiographical novel "The Hottest State," and also adapted it, directed it and even cast himself as William's father in it, which makes it sound like the ultimate vanity project. But there's a basic truth to its observations about the clumsiness and anxiety of first love.

Hawke gets lovely, nuanced performances from his two leads - Mark Webber and Catalina Sandino Moreno - and surrounds them with equally sharp performers in support - Laura Linney and Sonia Braga as differently damaged moms. And himself as a deadbeat dad back in Texas - the hottest state - who wasn't there when his actor/son was young and trying to figure out passion - "The hottest state."

Much as Hawke orchestrates the early love scenes so that they ache with longing, he makes his father-son scenes with Webber ache with sorrow and forgiveness. You can see in his eyes that neat resolutions aren't in the cards for these characters, but that growth is. The film is proof.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: And you can find more reviews of movies out in theaters now at npr.org/movies.

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