Ethan Hawke has always taken himself too seriously, and his roles -- especially his collaborations with Richard Linklater -- have left him shamelessly enamored with talky bohemian romances. These combined factors could have made The Hottest State an exercise in pretentious naval-gazing. After all, Hawke is adapting his own novel, and his sophomore turns as screenwriter and director represent the first time he's had such control over one project. What's more, he's clearly fashioned the protagonist after himself, outfitting Mark Webber in messy cowlicks and an orgy of thrift-store couture; he's the kind of free spirit whose reckless honesty always gets him into trouble. But The Hottest State isn't actually insufferable. Its sins are pretty forgivable -- for example, randomly dissecting linguistics without any narrative justification, or assigning significance that isn't there. If anything, Hawke can be accused of a bit more sentimentality than he probably intended in his choice of music, an excessively cheery acoustic score by Jesse Harris, when a brooding indie soundtrack might have seemed more his style. And give him this: some of Hawke's dialogue really penetrates to the heart of the matter, producing observations the viewer hasn't quite heard in those words. However, an overall lack of specificity ultimately dooms The Hottest State to remaining a minor and mostly forgettable work. For one, the film doesn't have a heck of a lot to do with the territory alluded to in the title, other than some cereal-box wisdom by William's absent father (played by Hawke) to "never stray too far from Texas in your heart." Webber and Catalina Sandino Moreno make a more than watchable central pairing, but both their initial attraction and eventual friction seem unremarkable at best, manufactured at worst. Once Hawke moves beyond constructs and gets a better grasp on real people, he'll mature as a filmmaker.