A text conversation a couple of weekends ago had @aipohaku and me challenging each other to create lists of our ten favorite movies set in Hawaii. I, of course, am late by a full week.
Note that I’m going for movies set in the Aloha State, not merely filmed here, so Jurrassic Park and The Karate Kid II are out.
10. Pearl Harbor (2001)
Okay, forget about the hype surrounding Pearl Harbor, the Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale pic that followed in the wake of Titanic as some kind of love story set against awful, historic events, and just look at is as an entertainment, and you’ll find some good stuff here, including a great recreation of the attack. I realize this is no masterpiece, but there’s some excellent Hawaii period footage like you don’t really see anymore.
9. From Here to Eternity (1953)
There’s that famous kissing scene on the beach, which I suppose is pretty good, even if it doesn’t live up to its iconic status. The real value in this movie are in seeing the streets of downtown Honolulu in its still-rough, WWII days, before it was cleaned up in the 1990s and before it was the sleaze-pit it became in the 1970s and 1980s, and in seeing this great cast when the actors were vibrant, young, exciting. It’s a great cast while not being a great movie, and it’s entertaining enough to keep you interested on one of those bad-weather play-hooky days, which I think are the conditions under which I first saw this when I was a teenager.
8. The Castaway Cowboy (1974)
I seem to be the only one of my friends who remembers this Disney film with James Garner, and based on reviews I’ve seen online, I may be the only person anywhere who remembers it fondly. Garner is rescued after being kidnapped from San Francisco and then tossed overboard in Hawaii. He sticks around to help his rescuing family with its farm. There is a memorable scene where the cattle are lashed by the horns to the sides of boats and then guided, while they swim, to some new location. I’m afraid to see this one again for fear of its being not nearly as good as I remember.
7. Goodbye, Paradise (1991)
Long-time Hawaii news anchor Joe Moore stars in this film set in an old neighborhood bar that’s about to be shut down. Part nostalgia trip longing for the way things used to be, and part let’s-see-if-we-can-make-Joe-Moore a movie star, Goodbye, Paradise is not remembered fondly by those few of us who saw it, but I liked it. There’s a little bit of double nostalgia with memories of this film because it’s the last thing I saw at the old Marina Theater, which many years ago became Hawaii’s only Red Lobster restaurant. The theater by that time was as much a run-down dump as the bar in the movie, but I remember both fondly.
6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Bias alert: I love Kristen Bell. I expected very little from Forgetting Sarah Marshall even though I admire the Apatow team for its effort if not usually for its product, but what really makes this film memorable is Mila Kunis, who for the first time kind of emerges as a possible star. She’s the rare non-local who manages to be convincing as kind of a local, and she’s really the highlight of a so-so movie.
5. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
To say I had low expectations of Lilo & Stitch, whose animation style I found boring and whose plot didn’t sound like the stuff of a Disney classic, would be a gross understatement. I went in determined not to like it. And I couldn’t help myself: I was charmed. The title characters, despite having every reason not to, won me over, and I left with renewed hope in Disney. I have known young men and women, cynics to the core, people who find something to dislike in anything conventional, who admitted the same thing.
4. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Punch-Drunk Love, with Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is set in Hawaii about the way Say Anything is set on a jet to Paris, which is to say not really setin Hawaii at all. However, it would appear that I haven’t seen as many films truly set in Hawaii as I once thought, and I only have the faintest memory of some of them, so I had to loosen my restriction just a little and include this in the list. Sandler and Watson are excellent in a movie whose main character resonates more with me than any other, except Paul Giamatti’s Miles role in Sideways.
3. 50 First Dates (2004)
There are about fifty stupid things in this movie, things that should offend me as a resident of Hawaii, where 50 First Dates is set. And in almost any other movie, I suppose they would, but Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore are just too good together, and there is a scene about midway through the film where we see Sean Astin and Blake Clark, as Barrymore’s brother and father, going to great, amazing, and genuinely touching lengths to make her amnesia.-like condition less traumatic. Sandler, at his most sincere and most earnest, does the rest, convincing us that he loves this happy girl in the saddest way. What’s good about the movie far, far outweighs what’s bad about it.
2. The Descendants (2011)
George Clooney and Shailene Woodley are excellent in The Descendants, a movie that looks like Hawaii the way only people who live here can testify to. The story’s got some weird holes (which, it has been explained to me, are omissions from the source novel); however, they are easily overlooked when the rest of the film is so well done. This movie looks and feels like Hawaii better than any other, and that by itself should make it #1 on this list. Yet:
1. North Shore (1987)
For about twenty hyper-subjective reasons, North Shore, for all its badness, is my favorite movie set in Hawaii (I actually like Punch-Drunk Love better, but it’s not set enough in Hawaii to count). For high-school crushes, Nia Peeples is only rivaled by Pat Benatar and Paulina Porizkova for duration and depth. For its many, many quotable bits of dialogue. For being in theaters the summer after my high-school graduation. For cameos by Makaha Sons of Niihau and surfers I actually recognize (because there aren’t many). I can’t help it. My head says a million things but my heart says, “You come back to the North Shore,” and then a second later, “Here on the North Shore, we treat our friends more better!”
I had Ride the Wild Surf on this list before I remembered to include Goodbye, Paradise, so that would be my number 11 if there were a number 11. I would also like to re-see Aloha Summer and Goin’ Cocoanuts (the Donnie and Marie movie set in Hawaii) to see if they somehow could crack this list.
I promised myself I wouldn’t look at @aipohaku’s list until mine was done, so it’s time now for me to go do it. You are encouraged to do the same!