A friend of mine used to always observe that if he ever visited Hawaii he’d probably never leave. After watching Christopher Kahunahana’s indie feature “Waikiki” he might reconsider. Instead of the natural splendor one associates with this neighborhood of Honolulu, “Waikiki” depicts a space filled with the constant and irritating noise of high rise construction, a beach threatened by erosion and a neighborhood favored by homeless people due to the availability of public showers and restrooms.
Danielle Zalopany plays Kea, a woman living in her van, working multiple jobs (teaching elementary school, singing and dancing in a Karaoke bar) in order to raise money to get an apartment. (Not having actual pay stubs makes this an all but impossible task.) When her abusive boy friend drags her out of the Karaoke bar one night she escapes in her van and runs into a homeless man. She stuffs the man in the back of her van; the trauma leaves her unsure of how to handle the situation so she goes about her jobs as if it never happened.
When she realizes the man isn’t dead the film becomes increasingly surreal as she lets him ride along with her, shares cigarettes and tries to get him to leave. After he lets someone steal her van, her options become even more desperate.
“Waikiki” is only 80 minutes long and it felt like something was missing in the last act. Some family flashbacks Kea has didn’t contribute as much as they should to help us feel how poverty in a post-colonial culture got her to the sad place she is in. Nevertheless, the cinematography (Ryan Miyamoto) is breathtaking and Zalopany (known principally for her acting in the “NCIS HAWAII” TV show) delivers a triumphant performance.
The most memorable image in the film shows Kea dancing and singing before a backdrop of vivid, tourist-satisfying footage of the island–a deeply ironic though visually stunning portrait of the people and space this unique film explores.
“Waikiki” opens in NYC on October 27 at the Regal Union Square. Go here for more information about the film.