After the deathly dull, faux-hipster muddle that was Ethan Hawke's directorial debut, Chelsea Walls, expectations aren't exactly high for the scruffy, pretentious, boho actor's adaptation of his own 1997 novel—about a scruffy, pretentious, boho actor and too-intense Romeo named William (Mark Webber). But in chronicling the manic euphoria of this 20-year-old's first love and, subsequently, the neurotic despair of his first breakup with aspiring singer-songwriter Sara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), Hawke quite capably taps into the bittersweet complexities of young, love-struck idiocy (otherwise known as the agonizing path that leads to the romantic realization that boys are dumb, girls are insane, sex isn't everything, and self-destructive obsession is tough to kick). The two meet in a Williamsburg bar, become inseparable even after she clamps her chastity belt shut, and finally consummate in a sticky, weeklong Mexican tryst. After an acting gig keeps him away for a month, Sara passively decides that she's not into boyfriends, and William reacts accordingly: He stalks her. It's achingly sincere, which isn't to say that Hawke's Tennessee Williams–quoting, overwrought script isn't as purple as Prince's rain and littered with dramatic shortcuts (both lovers have daddy issues). Give the guy some credit, though: When you hit rock bottom with your first feature, the only way to go is up.
Moreno as the object of ardor.
Opens at Egyptian, Fri., Sept. 14. Rated R. 117 minutes.