Q’orianka Kilcher’s first role since her stunning breakout as Pocahontas in The New World finds her playing to type as the last princess of Hawaii, struggling against the American takeover of a then-sovereign republic. It’s her second indigenous-versus-white people role in a row, which suggests troubling things about her career prospects. Marc Forby’s directorial debut doesn’t try to avoid comparisons with Terrence Malick; with rapturous shots of hands passing through pristine fields, it actively courts them. But Forby is much schlockier, employing pan pipes to signify that we’re now in England when the princess travels there to wait out political turmoil; when she returns to a devastated republic, weepy violins kick in, and the end of an era seems (and is) inevitable as Hawaii becomes just another American colony. To be fair, Princess Kaiulani (previous title, unbelievably: Barbarian Princess) is livelier than the usual period piece, it looks decent and moves fast. But that speed means that a whole lot of history gets way too compressed (the takeover of Hawaii is basically reduced to Kilcher’s face versus evil, black-hatted Barry Pepper’s mustache, a spectacular follicle creation that upstages his entire performance). And this may be the only film in history to have someone learn about egalitarianism at a British boarding school (!). Hawaii’s dismal onscreen track record continues; bring back James Michener.
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