I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age movie, and one of my favorites is Hoot, a 2006 adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s novel of the same name. It’s a fairly straightforward story about a kid who moves to Florida, gets tangled up in a low-stakes mystery, and learns to love his new home.
I’ve loved this movie for a long time, but I recently rewatched it after I saw some abandoned construction equipment in a parking lot that reminded me of a plot point where one of the characters steals a bulldozer seat. This made me wonder why so many things remind me of Hoot; I don’t think about Stand by Me every time I see train tracks or Juno every time I see an ill-advised headband. Why has Hoot stuck with me the way few movies have?
Last time I wrote about something I love, I said it made me miss a place I’d been but that no longer exists the way it does in my memory. Hoot takes it one step further and makes me miss a place I’ve never gone. The story doesn’t take place on the Florida coast by accident – Carl Hiaasen is from Florida, and his affection for the place shines through from the book and into the movie.Like Roy (Logan Lerman), the movie’s protagonist, I moved a lot growing up and by high school I was sick of being the new kid. I suspect some of Hoot’s appeal to me is wish fulfillment – Roy shows up at a new school and is immediately in the middle of the action, with things to do and places to explore. But the movie’s impact is more universal than that. It’s about how identity is tied to place and how belonging can bring out the best in people.
Roy misses the mountains in Montana and the freedom of its vast open spaces. On Roy’s first day of school, a hulking bully gives him a hard time and Roy looks defeated. Another school, another year of survival as an outsider. But Roy sees someone running barefoot from his school bus window, and he’s intrigued. He follows the barefoot kid to give him a pair of shoes, one thing leads to another, and he’s trying to save burrowing owls from the imminent construction of a pancake restaurant. The barefoot kid (Cody Linley) and his sister Beatrice (Brie Larson) take Roy under their wings, and Beatrice even takes care of Roy’s bully.
Lerman, Larson, and Linley have great chemistry on screen, and throughout the movie we see Roy find a home with these two friends by his side. Linley’s character (who goes by Mullet Fingers because he can catch the fish with just his bare hands) takes Roy through the everglades on an airboat, where they talk about modernity forsaking the environment while they gaze at alligators and watch mullets dart below the surface of the water. Beatrice, a couple days removed from humiliating Roy’s bully in front of the whole school, sneaks into Roy’s room through an open window to escape a rough night at home. Roy starts to fit in, if not in the way he might have imagined on the first day of school.
Before the big stuff, a few more quick reasons Hoot is great: it features original Jimmy Buffet music, and it features Jimmy Buffett himself as a cool oceanography teacher; Luke Wilson is hilarious as a bumbling, well-intentioned cop; Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) has a ton of fun as the cartoonish face of capitalistic villainy; Brie Larson as Beatrice is a 10/10 “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”-style high school crush; Tim Blake Nelson (Dr. Pendanski from Holes) is perfect as Gregg’s clueless underling.
As Roy starts to feel that he belongs in Florida, he becomes as invested in the burrowing owls as Beatrice and Mullet Fingers are. As movies go, he’s the one who alerts the town to the owls and gets the restaurant construction cancelled. In one of the final scenes (spoilers for a 12-year-old movie), the three stand side by side in front of Gregg’s bulldozer, made braver by each other’s resolve. Hoot earnestly believes that through belonging and perseverance, people can change the world for the better.
The movie also nails the little moments that make an on-screen place feel lived in. Roy drops his bike outside every other scene and never locks it up. Shots linger on gigantic trees and picturesque shorelines, but those moments feel like background for the characters and not the other way around. Roy’s school friend Garrett is a classic coming-of-age archetype, but somehow he’s still uniquely endearing.
Hoot is a good, fun movie, but it’s special because it understands what it feels like to be an outsider, and it understands the power of that weight lifted. It understands the magic of feeling lost in a place and then coming to wonder how you ever could have existed somewhere else.
Loving a place isn’t about mountains or oceans. It’s about memories and people, and more than anything this is the message Hoot drives home. Hoot may not have the greatest acting or the most realistic plot, but its heart is so thoroughly in the right place that everything else hardly matters.