Hick, the acclaimed novel by Andrea Portes, features one of the freshest, catchiest voices in recent fiction. The voice belongs to Luli, the 13-year-old daughter of a pair of lushes in Nowhere Nebraska, and it's funny, trashy, snarky, outrageous -- a great yawp from the heartland that rings heart-breakingly true. Now Hick is about to hit the big screen, and since an early sighting at the Toronto film fest last year, it's been generating controversy, in part because this story of an underage girl includes violence, implied rape, drugs, even murder.
A dark variation on the road movie, Hick (directed by Derick Martini of Lymelife) opens on the 13th birthday of Luli (up-and-coming Chloë Moretz) in her parents' bar surrounded by other pickled losers. Among Luli's gifts is a .45 Smith & Wesson. After mom (trash queen Juliette Lewis) runs off with a sugar daddy and her father disappears as well, Luli -- flat-out abandoned -- decides to hit the road for Las Vegas to find a sugar daddy of her own. On the road she tangles with a gimpy and volatile cowboy (sexy Eddie Redmayne, with lips almost as come-hither as Moretz's), and then falls in with Glenda (Blake Lively), a grifter and coke-snorting guide to America's highways and byways -- who could also be read as a grown-up version of Luli. Though this coming-of-ager culminates in gunfire and mayhem, Luli emerges, improbably but triumphantly, as a resilient survivor and figure of hope.
In an effort to understand the fracas over this candid, if provocative odyssey of an underage girl, I spoke with Hick's author, Andrea Portes, who also wrote the screenplay.
Erica Abeel: You mention a "witch hunt" triggered by Hick. One reviewer observed, "I can see making a coming of age story with a boy, but with a girl it's just creepy." So is the put-down about the protagonist's gender?
Andrea Portes: That comment made my blood boil. It makes you want to shout, 'Okay... so do we just not tell coming-of-age stories about girls, then?' Or do we just tell stories with rainbows and unicorns that have nothing to do with anything?
I think part of it is that most films we see are written by men... so we get a lot of similar female characters: The girlfriend, the wife, the virgin, the whore, the tragic but beautiful basket case, the innocent yet wise teenager, the quirky friend, the femme fatale. But when you have a female writer, writing a female character... things just come out a little differently. (Example: Erin Cressida Wilson's Secretary.) And then, when you have a female writer writing a teenage girl, with all her flaws, beauty, innocence, curiosity, etc... it makes people, especially men, REALLY uncomfortable.
I mean, the thing with Luli is... she sees this big wide world, through movies and magazines, with impossibly beautiful women having the time of their lives, and yet she's stuck in this horrible place. So understandably, she wants to go out there and take a big bite out of this glitzy, glamorous world she thinks exists. And, of course, it doesn't exist. That is a world being spoon-fed to all of us to sell more stuff. But it's an illusion.
The other issue, I think, is that there's a way you're SUPPOSED to tell a story with violence, possible molestation, etc. The way everyone usually does it, and the way it's considered socially acceptable, is to do a kind of Lifetime movie-of-the-week, black-and-white story where all men are evil and all girls are prefect. But, guess what? That's simplistic. And we've all seen that story... a billion times.
I was more interested in telling a story that was like life... at times weird, at times funny, at times horrible, at times absurd, at times violent, at times moving, at times beautiful. That makes sense to me, maybe because that's the way I've experienced the world. I know the film is shocking. But it's not shocking just to be shocking. I'm holding up a mirror up to nature. I know a LOT of girls who had these type of strange entanglements during their teenage years.
So many women came up to me, during my book tour, and said: "You know what, something like this happened to me and I never told a SOUL." Many of them didn't feel they should tell anyone, because everything was in kind of a grey area. It was, what they at the time, considered a "relationship". It was only years later when they realized, "Oh my Lord, that was wrong! That person took advantage of me. No, a 28 year old is not your 'boyfriend' when you are 13!"
So, yes, it's a shocking film. But, you know what... it ain't nothing compared to what's really out there. Trust me.
EA:: In the novel you give Luli, as the narrator, a wonderfully distinctive voice -- raw and LOL funny. How in your screen version did you capture that?
AP: Luli's dialogue is in many places word for word, from the novel. Same goes for Eddie and Glenda.
EA: Sorry to ask, but to what degree is the story autobiographical?
AP: I'd say around 60 percent. But that 60 percent should probably be kept a mystery. I mean... it's not like I ever shot anybody. (Wink.)
EA: What do you think of the casting? Chloë Moretz looks almost ridiculously like the character in the novel as you describe her, even down to the big, plummy mouth. As Luli she's a lot hotter than as the vampire girl in Let Me In. And what about Blake Lively and Eddie Redmayne, who's become quite the heartthrob?
AP: Let's face it. Chloë Moretz existing right now is really lucky for the film. I can't imagine anyone else in that role. Also, Chloe herself has a lot of Luli's qualities... smart, funny, precocious, sharp, intellectually curious, sometimes just a kid goofing around, two seconds later beyond her years. She's really kind of a little miracle.
I am giddy for people to see Eddie Redmayne as Eddie Kreezer. He's just riveting. It's beyond anything I had ever dreamed of. It's nice, too, because off camera he's just a really kind, smart, self-deprecating, English gent. He's top shelf. Blake Lively came to the set with the novel book-marked and dog-eared and she wanted to add more dialogue from the book. So, of course, I was thrilled. (Any novelist would be.) She was really smart about the role. Glenda is not an easy role to play and she nailed it.
EA: Did you bond with Chloë over the film?
AP: I did get along well with Chloë and her family. They're really good people. It's funny, too, because in a lot of these blogs people are expressing concern over her growing up too fast. And I'm thinking... No, no, if anything Chloë is much more insulated and protected than most girls her age. Her mom, Teri, and her brother, Trevor, who is also her acting couch, make sure she's got an amazing, secure foundation. And that she goes to bed early. It's really sweet, actually.
EA: Aside from the screenplay, did you have any other role in the film?
AP: Yes, Derick brought me in early, during pre-production, and kept me there the whole time. He was insistent I be there. It was an incredible process and I was lucky to have been put in that position. Most writers aren't even allowed on the set, let alone allowed to sit next to the director at the monitor. It was beyond cool.
EA: Back to the "discomfort factor" inspired by Hick. Luli seems very self-assured for her age. But will it be hard for viewers to root for her when she becomes entangled with the psycho cowboy who then molests and ties her up? And how is the issue of the murder resolved in the film?
AP: You know, before anyone was cast there was a common question: "Why does Luli keep getting in that truck with Eddie?" And my answer was, "Look, if you cast the right Eddie, you'll understand." And that's exactly what happens with Eddie Redmayne. You KNOW you shouldn't. You KNOW you're probably going to regret it... but you just can't help yourself. He's charming, and crazy, and vulnerable, and funny, and psychotic, and goofy. And, yes, ultimately, he's broken. But you still fall in love with him.
As for the murder... wait, you'll have to see it! Coming soon to a theater near you!