After the U.S.-sanctioned overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the heir to the throne, Princess Kaiulani (Kilcher), takes it upon herself to restore the kingdom. It’s a mostly futile cause, made all the more difficult by the character’s ties to two different worlds: The daughter of a Scottish financier and a Hawaiian princess, Kaiulani moved to Europe as a young woman, where she received a full Western education and weighed the marriage proposal of an attentive young man named Clive (Evans). Yet she constantly felt the call of her homeland, and circumstances soon tragically forced her hand.
The royal icon’s story deserves better than this straightforward biopic, which is clearly inspired by Terrence Malick’s historical fantasia The New World. It borrows that movie’s lead performer (Kilcher played Pocahontas, a similarly beleaguered native forced to adapt to Western influence) and strains for equally poetic heights that first-time director Marc Forby almost never attains. A Tchaikovsky-scored romantic interlude between Kaiulani and Clive is the closest the film gets to pure, profound lyricism; everything else is a prosaic plod, with events, dates and characters sloppily composited to fit into a two-hour feature. Kilcher makes the slog worthwhile—her face gleams with possibility, even in the character’s darkest moments—though one prays she escapes the typecasting trap ASAP.—Keith Uhlich
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