According to writer/director/lead actor Seth Packard, the term "hottieboombalottie" is what the hot girls in high school used for guys they thought were really hot." I saw the film "Hottieboombalottie" three and a half years ago at the LA Film Festival not expecting anything more than a cute indie comedy to pass a few hours of my time. What I got instead was a hilarious and irreverent take on a high-school nerd cluelessly trying to win the affection of his dream girl.
Set in suburban Utah, "Hottieboombalottie" opens on quirky loner Ethan (Packard) trying to get other kids to sign his high-school yearbook. While a few do, for the most part, his yearbook pages remain empty. He can barely even get his own brother Clay (Matthew Webb) to sign it. In fact, Clay just holds out a pen while Ethan moves his yearbook back and forth so it looks like Clay wrote "BRO." The person he really wants to sign his yearbook is none other than the school hottie, Madison (Shay Williamson).
At home, his mother (Pam Eichner) is worried about not only Ethan's lack of friends, but social grace as well. Posted on the wall of their dining room is a threat that roughly says, "if you do something wrong, I'm sending you to live with your cousins." Clearly, Ethan is doing nothing wrong, but to avoid getting sent away, he lies about his relationship to Madison (which is clearly non-existent) so mom will get off his back. Pretending he is supposed to hang out with her at work, he shows up at a flower shop and proceeds to make a fool out of himself. (It involves G.I. Joe underwear.)
Mom continues to worry, so she asks Clay to help Ethan out. Ethan arranges a date for Ethan and Madison which ends up being a set up to get Ethan in trouble and - you guessed it - sent away to his cousin's house in California. Which is when Clay moves in on Madison.
In California, Ethan shares his Madison obsession with cousin Asher (Trace Williamson) and Asher's cousin Cleo (Lauren McKnight). This involves revealing the life-size standee of Madison he not only brings to California with him... but also talks to. Taking pity on him, Cleo makes it her goal to help Ethan break up Madison and Clay, even though she's developed feelings for Ethan herself.
"Hottieboombalottie" is one of those quirky indie comedies that is so enjoyably unpredictable in its dialogue and character motivations that every minute is a giddy piece of happiness. Ethan is so clueless on how to act in the world, you can't help but be charmed by him. And for that reason, you want him to succeed, even when we realize Madison is no prize.
Packard as Ethan is adorable and winning, but as a director and writer, he is a master of unpredictable dialogue and comedic timing. Not only does he know when to get out of a joke for maximum effect (he's also the film's editor), on the flip side, he knows when to extend a joke to the point of aching ridiculousness. (Again, I reference the underwear gag. My stomach hurt from laughing.) He understands that the funny things that we do in life aren't always zip-bang moments of "gotcha" dialogue, but rather, graceless moments of uncomfortable reality. He also effectively allows the actors to adapt that kind of apathetic lilt to their delivery that rings true, rather than having everyone sound like they just stepped out of a sitcom.
The supporting cast is excellent and completely understand Packard's brand of comedic rhythm. McKnight is completely winning as the "not cousin" Cleo who pines for Ethan, but pushes her feelings aside to make him happy. Matthew Webb plays douche bag-with-a-heart Clay with self-obsessed perfection. Pam Eichner as Ethan's mom isn't on screen all that much, but makes an impression as the similarly clueless matriarch who's parenting skills are a bit suspect. Shay Williamson as the goddess Madison is appropriately indifferent about everything.
Tech credits are spot on with great widescreen cinematography by Travis Cline and a clever score by John Swihart. Speaking of music, this film has one of the best soundtracks I've heard in years and each song fits the cadence of the film perfectly. Featuring music by OK Go, The Sounds, Ghostland Conservatory, The Fire and Reason, and more, this is one soundtrack you'll be wanting to blast in your car at top volume.
I'm honestly stunned that a studio didn't snap this up right after its LA Festival debut. It would have - could have - and should have been a word-of-mouth hit similar to "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Juno." The writing is sharp, the direction perfectly executed, and brings to life a character we fall in love with like the Ferris Beullers of years past. That said, this is the closest any filmmaker has gotten to reminding us of the genius of John Hughes. In fact, this is the best John Hughes movie that John Hughes never made. And in the genre of high school comedies, I can't think of a higher compliment.
View The Trailer HERE