Review: Waikiki (BFF 2021)

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An exploration of one woman’s struggles to step out of the her dark reality in Hawaii, Waikiki is raw film that invites you in for a journey that doesn’t quite have a destination, though that very well may be the point.

A hula dancer/teacher/hostess (Danielle Zalopaney) crashes her vehicle into a man as she speeds off from an altercation, leading to a couple of days together as she attempts to move forward while memories of her traumatic past pull her back. Written and directed by Christopher Kahunahana, Waikiki shelves the beauty of Hawaii for the grittiness of a reality not seen by travelers. Zalopaney’s character is the focus here, a journey ensuing that is tough to watch (abuse from a boyfriend, nowhere to call home), though elevated by the actor’s performance. It all ends up surprisingly tender as the man she hits ends up opening her eyes to an unseen beauty. 

That’s what I took, at least, from a film that vacillates between dark closeups, picturesque landscapes, and flashbacks that come across somewhat confusing. In the end, however, Waikiki is a beautiful debut from a talented filmmaker who taps into the culture of his home and shines a light on a part of the community often left unseen.

Rating: 3/5

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