Hormones overtake history
By Rachel Saslow
Friday, May 21, 2010
It's safe to assume that most Americans don't often think about how Hawaii became a U.S. territory -- if they ever learned the story in the first place. It's a sad, but familiar tale: White men come to a resources-rich, strategically located nation, deem its inhabitants "barbarians" and take over.
That's the backdrop for "Princess Ka'iulani," an uneven film that, by trying to satisfy parents with political drama and older children with a love story, leaves both parties wanting.
The film, which is based on real events, opens in 1889 with the young princess (Q'orianka Kilcher) collecting shells on the beach. We learn through a narrator that Ka'iulani's mother has died, the first of many hardships of the princess's life. Soon, rebels linked to the U.S. government try to overthrow the monarchy, and Ka'iulani's father, who is Scottish, whisks her away to safety in England. The princess is devastated and mopes around her new Victorian bedroom, carefully laying out seashells that she collected with her mother on her bedspread and crying. In England, she faces racial slurs at school and at social events, people stare at her and ask demeaning questions such as "Do you read and write?"
She falls in love with a British boy named Clive (Shaun Evans) and an interminable sequence of scenes of them giggling and making out begins, interrupted only by googly eyes and barfarific dialogue.
The film gets more interesting when the political situation heats up in Hawaii and Ka'iulani travels to the United States, where she must charm journalists and President Grover Cleveland in order to protect the interests of her people. In the process, she transitions into a poised stateswoman fighting for suffrage for Hawaiian natives.
Viewers who are interested in issues of colonialism and Native American rights will probably roll their eyes at the slow, formulaic romance between Ka'iulani and Clive. Younger viewers, perhaps drawn in by the promise of a princess story, will squirm through the diplomatic scenes, which they probably won't understand.
The tagline on the movie posters is "her heart was torn between love and the future of Hawaii." Evidently, so were the filmmakers.
Contains some violence, brief foul language, sensuality and smoking.