Princess Kaiulani

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted May. 18, 2010

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What is film acting? Is it simply reading lines? Or is it more to do with that mystical thing called “screen presence?” An actor often can get away with being so-so or even terrible with dialogue if he or she is likeable and photogenic, but how many actors can you name who are great at dialogue but have no screen presence?

Q’orianka Kilcher (cousin to Jewel) falls into that former category. In Terrence Malick’s The New World, she delivered a revelatory Pocahontas, which it seems now was in large part because her performance was almost completely visual. The camera recorded her body movement and subtle facial reactions. Her dialogue, usually in unsubtitled Algonquin, was minimal. That she was an actress of limited talents didn’t matter at the time.

Now, the producers of Princess Kaiulani have performed an almost cruel deed: They’ve made it glaringly obvious she’s an actress of limited talents. Kaiulani gives Kilcher a proper, lots-of-dialogue role as the titular last princess of Hawaii. In the years before annexation, Kaiulani splits time between home and the U.K. (daddy was a Scot), falling for a charming Brit (Shaun Evans), but ultimately devoted to being the champion of her people.

Kaiulani is a classically dull, inert historical pageant with all the trimmings: tone-deaf expository dialogue, declaratory acting, insistent scoring, studied crane shots, hopelessly simplified history, one-note characterizations and interesting facial hair. On the plus side, it’s very, very short.

Without Terrence Malick to mold her performance, Kilcher is lost. She delivers her unreadable lines with the polish of a junior-high student wrestling with Arthur Miller. She’s fine as ever when the camera’s just observing her, but when she’s asked to express complicated emotions, she overdoes it. She’s trying, and by trying, she fails.

Malick understood that Kilcher has a natural screen presence. The makers of Princess Kaiulani are expecting someone like Emily Blunt. The two are not the same.

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1. Marlene Gutwein said... on May 19, 2010 at 03:50AM

“I am mesmerized by Qoriankas acting skills and do not relate to your review at all, other than simply feeling that the film was weak, but not Ms Kilcher.
You seem to almost have a chip on your shoulder and your review is rather uneducated.”

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2. Rita said... on May 19, 2010 at 03:44PM

“WOW, your review sounds rather jaded and narrow minded, to begrudge a talent like Q'orianka's simply because the film might be mediocre seems missguided to me, but maybe their weren't enough flying blue monkey aliens to please you.”

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3. msic said... on May 20, 2010 at 10:40AM

“Holy cow! I disagree with portions of your review! So I must disparage you strongly on a personal level, and call you names! When I was younger, I would read this stuff in the paper and call you these names silently in my head!! Now that I have the Internet, I can do it in public, and I know you will see it!

I think your views on a film I have not seen are incorrect. YOU SUCK!!!”

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4. PK said... on May 22, 2010 at 08:34PM

“This film was a total travesty”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 1, 2010 at 04:25PM

“What a completely ignorant review. Q'orianka's acting ability is something you obviously are not talented enough to see. You may want to take the time to study the essence of the Hawaiian people during that time. She did a wonderful job of portraying the princess and capturing her audience. I am of Hawaiian descent and proud to have such a talented actress portray our beloved Princess Ka`iulani. Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.”

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