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A tender ensemble slice of inner-city Philly life to wash out the foul taste of Crossing Over‘s far more explicit ills, The Hottest State star Mark Webber’s directorial debut is also, not surprisingly, stronger than either of Ethan Hawke’s stints behind the camera. Having spent time squatting while being raised by a single mom, Webber has been an outspoken activist against urban poverty, thus his all-star indie cast tends to serve as a collective mouthpiece for his lefty politics. The lived-in performances include Lou Taylor Pucci as the artist who has to sell pot to survive, Paul Dano as a struggling actor battling the melancholia of an unhelpful world, Rosario Dawson as the working-class mother of a young asthmatic (newcomer Francisco Burgos, a tad too precocious for his own good), and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter as Jimmy Fallon’s new house-band MC and also a vegan entrepreneur. Executive produced by Jim Jarmusch and lensed with luminous saturation by Patrice Lucien Cochet, the film is confidently polished and thankfully more sweet-tempered than preachy, given that every narrative thread has an underlying theme of social injustice. As it leads up to a neighborhood-wide rally that brings every character together, it’s a shame that Webber (in a marching cameo) has already surrendered his drama over to a last-act tragedy (poverty’s fault, of course). For that, I, too, protest.