Hick (Unbridled Books) by Andrea Portes is a semi-autobiographical debut novel about a girl from a trashy, nothing town with a need to make something happen. Leaving behind breakfasts of stale crackers and dinners of bar snacks while waiting for her alcoholic parents to bring her back home, we find 13 year-old Luli on the road, headed toward Vegas with a .45 as her secret travel buddy. Andrea Portes’ plucky, heartbreaking book Hick draws you in and chews at your softest corners.
Portes grew up in rural Nebraska, going between Illinois, Texas, North Dakota, North Carolina and Brazil before attending Bryn Mawr College on scholarship. After Hick garnered critical praise, Portes was asked to write a screenplay of the same name for director Derick Martini. The film premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. The adaptation has incited a wide scope of strong feelings, both for and against it, even though the loss/taking of a young girl’s innocence is not a new tale; we all remember and love Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver, correct?
I sat down with Portes to discuss her book and film.
The Rumpus: Hick, true or false?
Andrea Portes: False. I wanted to use that word to kind of explode it. The idea being: Okay, this is a girl that would easily be categorized as a hick… but look at how much more complicated than that she is. It’s essentially a say against that kind of pigeon-holing.
Rumpus: Absolutely. One of our greatest possibilities as writers is pointing out false stereotypes. Luli is a survivor. What would you imagine she grows up to be?
Portes: I’m not sure what she grows up to be. But I know whatever it is… it’s not just some rich guy’s wife, which is what she set out to Las Vegas for, you know, to “find a sugar-daddy”. The last line of the film is “You could never grab enough.” So, now that Luli knows that “all that glitters is not gold”, I’m thinking she does something really cool with her future. And doesn’t become just another mindless consumer.
I was disappointed not more people got the essential anti-materialist theme of the film, actually. You know, the Caterpillar trucks are devouring the land, the farm is being bull-dozed over to build a Walmart, and Luli is demeaning herself by seeking out a Las Vegas sugar-daddy… all of these things are ways that things that are naturally beautiful are defiled by money. Perhaps in the book it’s more clear, somehow, but this was something that was important to me to convey. I’m absolutely 100% in defiance of paving paradise and building a parking lot, literally or metaphorically.
Rumpus: What was the biggest challenge for you in adapting your novel into a screenplay?
Portes: What to take and what to leave behind. You’re re-framing whether you like it or not. And so much of that can lead you into territory where you just don’t want to be. I was extremely worried it would come off as some kind of sentimental blather.
Rumpus: Not a chance. In fact my favorite part, in both the book and the movie, could have been written in a sentimental way, but instead it is the core to the characterization of Luli’s family: “a baby brother born the color of the clouds.” Was that your thought behind this?
Portes: That chapter in the novel came to me practically in a dream. I remember I woke up and wrote it at around 4 in the morning. But it was something about their history that wasn’t there. And, also, a say against the fact that poor people don’t get health care, or don’t get the same choices as rich people do, when they have a crisis like this. However, what’s really strange is that I had no idea this actually happened in my family, to my grandparents. My grandparents lost their baby girl. So, it was almost like, somehow my blood was telling a story my brain didn’t know.
Rumpus: How has the reaction been to each format, as the story differs subtly in tone from book to film?
Portes: Well, happily, the reaction to the novel was absolutely amazing. I was lucky that way and continue to be extremely grateful. Many readers are female and I think this subject matter really speaks to women.
The film critic reception seems to have been kind of vitriolic. For some reason that continues to baffle me. There’s a huge disconnect between the audience, who on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Getglue really love the film… and the critics who absolutely have come out frothing at the mouth to demonize us and even have called us pedophiles. It’s the same subject matter as the book, so it’s strange. But, you know, the younger audience really seems to get the film, which makes me extremely grateful. For some reason I think it’s just not a film for old white men. And, sadly, the “established” critics are usually old white men. I think they just don’t want to be put into the point of view of a 13-year-old girl. I think they just kind of want to close their eyes and pretend all 13-year-old girls lives are just peachy keen. Which they’re not. Obviously. Either that or the movie strikes a chord with their inner pervert and then they’re extremely uncomfortable with that, so they tear us to shreds. Or, the final theory is, and I’ve been told this by a few critics, that it’s just a bandwagon thing. I can’t decide which it is… but the reaction from the critics has been beyond demonizing in a way that’s kind of shocking. Happily, the audience reaction has been amazing, though. And that’s who the movie is for, ultimately.
Rumpus: We can all be thankful for that…isn’t negativity just so boring? I’m so bored with the negative old white dude attitude. So over.
Portes: I know, I look at the amazing things written about Hick from the kids, and it’s just so heart-warming. I’m so happy they get the film. I’m so happy they fall in love with Eddie, even though they know they shouldn’t. That’s really the key. If you put yourself in Luli’s shoes, her red jelly slippers, and take that ride, you’ll get the film. You’ll fall in love with the wrong guy, you won’t know whether you love him or hate him until it’s too late. Kind of like life.
Portes: Aw, thanks. Once Chloe was on board everything really fell into place. We were lucky that the script, with Chloe, attracted that kind of talent. Again, I was and continue to be extremely grateful for such a talented cast.
Rumpus: What was a day like on set? How long was the shoot?
Portes: It was so much fun, really. It was incredible to see Derick work, he really is amazing with the actors. He’s really passionate about the performances, loves the actors, and trusts them. Of course, watching Eddie Redmayne take after take was kind of a master class in acting. It was like, “Wow. Which one of those brilliant takes are you going to choose, Derick?” Blake came on the set and she had the book dog-eared with all these different lines she wanted to put back in, which she did. It was so cool, and vindicating, because you know… as the novelist many of those lines had been cut by earlier producers on the project. She did an incredible job in the film. I love her Glenda. (Not an easy part, by any means.) Last but obviously not least: I was blown away at how Chloe carried the film. She’s kind of a prodigy, really. Some of her takes, in the heartbreaking scenes, would make me cry, and she’d come back to the monitor and be like “Portes, I made you cry!’ It was really funny. She’s a pig-tail puller. Basically, she’s extremely talented but she’s, also, a kid who likes to tease and try funny things like a hula-hoop. And she’s incredibly intellectually curious, which I love. I, also, am heartened by the fact that she has her mother, Teri, and her brother, Trevor, there to guide her, protect her and keep her life as normal as it can be, considering. They’re really good people. And I don’t say that lightly. It was about a 5-6 week shoot. So, not much. We were really in a time crunch. Luckily, Derick had everything really dialed in, so when we went to shoot it was all about the acting. I think the performances in the film really reflect that.
Rumpus: Yes. Watching Eddie, the way he could smile, you just wanted Luli never to get back in that car.
Portes: Exactly. But that smile gets you back in the truck. It’s kind of impossible to resist Eddie Redmayne as Eddie Kreezer. That’s the point. Of course, logically, it’s a bad idea. But… people aren’t robots, people make bad decisions when James Dean-style dreamboats bow their Stetsons.
Rumpus: I can’t help but wonder if Glenda was her real name? Or was that one she chose for a reason?
Portes: Is Glenda her real name? Of course. She’s Glenda the good witch. And by good I mean she gives Luli meth and makes her rob a convenience store.
Rumpus: What’s next for you?
Portes: Well… I just finished my second novel, Why Then You Left Me. Also, I have two super double secret projects I am not really allowed to talk about yet. Stay tuned!