In the story of Hawaiian Princess Kaiulani, there is no happily ever after. She died at age 23 from what is believed to be a broken heart caused by the loss of her man, mother and homeland.

In the story of Hawaiian Princess Kaiulani, there is no happily ever after. She died at age 23 from what is believed to be a broken heart caused by the loss of her man, mother and homeland.


Her’s was a tragic life, filled with political and emotional struggles. And it would seem to be ripe fodder for a richly compelling film. Or it would if first-time writer and director Marc Forby had not turned her life into a melodramatic bore in “Princess Kaiulani.”


Equally troublesome is how Forby wastes the collective talent of his cast – the beautiful Q’orianka Kilcher (an Oscar nominee for “The New World”), Will Patton (“Brooklyn’s Finest”) and Barry Pepper (“61*”) – by saddling them with such a sterile script. Forby spends more time shooting close-ups of buggy wheels and seashells than he does filming his actors.


Pepper (sporting a distractingly awful moustache) and Patton are the cliched bad guy-good guy American imperialists sent to Hawaii to shove colonization down the native’s throats. One wants the monarchy destroyed, the other is willing to negotiate peacefully.


Even though her girlish giggling grows weary, Kilcher absorbs the role and tries valiantly to make lemonade from lemons, . as her character evolves from love-struck schoolgirl to regal gravitas after the princess enters a political battle to save her people.


Forby tells us – mostly through flashbacks and the use of letters and telegrams – that she has “become the hope of the nation.” That’s quite the burden resting on her adolescent (she’s only 17) shoulders.


Forby paints the magnitude of the unrest and eventual annexation of Hawaii with such broad strokes that you never feel the heaviness of the situation or the importance of her role in Hawaii’s history and how she fought for full citizenship rights to be granted for all Hawaiians. A lot of the politics is never even explained.


The film opens in 1888 and the Kingdom of Hawaii is at civil war. For her safety, Princess Kaiulani is sent to England by her father to live with a British aristocrat who owned land in Honolulu. While there, she attends a school where her brown skin stands out and her royal blood doesn’t matter.


Forby references some of the prejudice Kaiulani encounters but never hangs any meat on the bones . Eventually, she falls in love with her British host’s son, Clive (Shaun Evans). Scenes of Kaiulani’s courtship are juxtaposed with the upheaval back home. Fast forward two years – and that’s a lot of details being left untouched in a life story that only spans two decades). The Hawaiian monarch is overthrown. Kaiulani is called back to Hawaii and Clive leaves for university.


Nicknamed the “Barbarian Princess” (in fact, that was the film’s original title but was changed due to controversy), Kaiulani took her crusade all the way to Grover Cleveland’s lunch table, where she charms the lame duck president over a dish of hen. Her efforts were all for naught once McKinley took over and annexation soon followed.


Be it her mother’s death when Kaiulani was a child or sacrificing her one true love or seeing her beloved Hawaii in turmoil, loss is the dominant theme of Forby’s film.


Another loss to add to the mix are the moviegoers who’ll only get the CliffsNotes version of the Kaiulani’s all-too-short life. We, and she, deserve more.


Reach Dana Barbuto at dbarbuto@ledger.com.


PRINCESS KAIULANI (PG for some violence and thematic material, and for brief language, sensuality and smoking.) Cast includes Q’orianka Kilcher, Shaun Evans, Barry Pepper, Will Evans. 1.5 stars out of 4.