Coming-of-age stories can be many things, but rarely are they pointless. It’s unfortunately the case with Hick. Chloe Grace Moretz plays Luli, a precocious teenage dreamer who decides to flee her dead-end white trash Nebraska life and, ostensibly headed for Vegas, falls in with a cast of even more dead-end characters who, while they do upend her life, manage to teach her (and us) nothing of any significance. One senses that director Derrick Martini and writer Andrea Portes (who also wrote the novel) have lofty ambitions here for a stylized journey of self-discovery, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the undigested hodgepodge of influences and story lines that winds up onscreen.
Hick does have its moments. They’re mostly in the first half, and they’re mostly thanks to Moretz, who gives her undeveloped and mostly cliché character an inner life the movie probably doesn’t deserve. Drawings of Clint Eastwood and James Dean line Luli’s walls (alongside those of princesses), and she spends much of her time acting out movie scenes, quoting Dirty Harry while brandishing a .45, or doing an Edward G. Robinson impression when she decides it’s time to get out of Dodge. (She’s not all tough-guy swagger, though: She also does a Marilyn Monroe/Princess Leia/Gloria Swanson medley.) It could all be insufferable, but Moretz somehow sells it: Subtle emotions dance across her face even when she’s engaged in the broadest of acting gestures, and you can’t help but wonder what’s really going on in this kid’s mind.
Astoundingly, the movie can’t seem to answer that question. Instead, Luli falls in with, first, Eddie (Eddie Redmayne), a crippled but good-looking young cowboy type with a truck, then Glenda (Blake Lively), a pretty grifter who gives her a snort of cocaine and teaches her about robbing convenience stores. (Well, one convenience store, actually; it turns out Glenda doesn’t know much about thievery either.) Then Luli learns that Glenda and Eddie know each other, and have a history. At which point we start to wonder whose story we’re really watching.
The idea is that Luli is so taken in by these folks, somehow so enchanted with them, that when they inevitably turn out to be disappointments, the heartbreak is life-changing. And yet, we never feel like we spend any time with these characters, aside from some meandering dialogue scenes that do little to give us a sense of any connection. You begin to realize that the film itself is suffering from the same problem as Luli — it’s impressionable, to a fault, and thinks random conversations about ice cream or brief moments of drug use can fill in as character development. (Quentin Tarantino manages to pull off this sort of thing because he uses ironic counterpoint to build suspense; we invest ourselves in a conversation about hamburgers or foot massages because we know that somewhere a proverbial bomb is ticking.)
As Hick proceeds, this disconnect with the audience grows wider and wider. The film also gets twistier, and much darker, but without any real characters or relationships at stake, the brutality never registers; it’s all just plot. (By the time Alec Baldwin shows up, you want to yell at him to run away as fast as he can.) For a movie that deals with rape, criminality, and even racks up a real body count, Hick is whisper-thin and instantly forgettable.