Flickchart Road Trip: Hawaii
Welcome to the latest installment of Flickchart Road Trip, in which I’m starting in Los Angeles and “driving” across country, watching one movie from each state and posting about it once a week. The new movie I watch will go up against five movies from that state I’ve already seen, chosen from five distinct spots on my own Flickchart. Although I won’t tell you where the new movie actually lands in my chart (I don’t like to add new movies until I’ve had a month to think about them), I’ll let you know how it fared among the five I’ve chosen. Thanks for riding shotgun!
It’s a historic moment, ladies and gentlemen. The Flickchart Road Trip ceases to involve roads.
I could drive from Washington to Alaska — barely — but driving from Alaska to Hawaii involves some kind of aquatic vehicle that hasn’t been invented yet, and probably a lot longer than one week.
I anticipated this problem in advance. That meant that I purchased a flight from Anchorage to Kona on the so-called “big island,” and that I managed to find a guy online who happened to want to drive my car from Anchorage back to Los Angeles. He didn’t seem too shady, either.
The flight itself took up the better part of a week. I flew from Anchorage to Seattle, laid over for an hour there, then Seattle to Honolulu, laid over for an hour there, then Honolulu to Kona. The total travel time was more than 13 hours. The last hop was definitely worth it, though, since I’d already been to the island of Oahu, but had yet to take in any of the big island.
It’s an understatement to call the area beautiful, and also to remark on the difference in climate from my most recent state. So I won’t even do that. Instead, I’ll tell you about walking on a volcano.
Not just any dormant volcano, either, but Kilauea, located 30 miles south of Hilo (where I was staying). Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes on earth, and one of the big island’s main tourist attractions. It’s actually been erupting constantly for over 30 years, which gives you some sense of the scale of the eruption (it’s no Mount St. Helens) and the likelihood of getting covered in gooey gobs of blistering lava (very low). The tour I did involved the 10.6-mile Crater Rim Drive, which features such attractions as the Kilauea overlook, Jaggar Museum, Halemaumau Crater, Devastation Trail, Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook and the Thurston Lava Tube. We also got to hike onto Kilauea itself, and do all the stuff you would expect: picking up handfuls of lava rocks, taking in the crisp air at that altitude, and sharing nervous looks with your fellow tourists, which betray the distant fear that you might, just might, be the next statistic in a major news story.
I descended in one piece and had an evening of mai tais at the hotel to celebrate.
In one of my last dates on the trip, I watched 50 First Dates, my Hawaii movie. The 2004 film is directed by comedy vet Peter Segal, the second of three straight Sandler collaborations (Anger Management before this, The Longest Yard after). Hawaii is not my 50th state on this trip — that’s next week — but it is the 50th state to join the union, so the title seemed appropriate. I kind of wonder if that’s what they were going for, except that the words “50 first dates” sound more like “51st state,” which doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, Flickcharters think it’s the 2634th best movie of all time.
What it’s about
Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is the most irresistible marine veterinarian on the island of Oahu, romancing female tourists for the length of their stay and no longer. His one-night-stand way of thinking is put to the test when he sees an attractive and sprightly young woman making towers out of her waffles at a local breakfast spot, and strikes up a conversation with her. Ironically, Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) is not suited to anything more than a one night stand, as a car accident the previous year has left her with brain damage that prevents her from making new memories. As such, Lucy has been stuck repeating the day before her accident, a charade intricately supported by her father (Blake Clark) and her brother (Sean Astin), who go to great lengths to reconstruct the events of that day to keep her in a state of ignorant bliss. Henry is convinced he can get through to her, and undergoes a campaign to make her fall in love with him — despite the fact that each morning, she believes she’s meeting him for the first time.
How it uses the state
As is the case with all movies set in Hawaii, Hawaii is not, nor could it be, an incidental setting. The very first line in the movie is “So how was Hawaii?” — addressed to a woman returning from a vacation where she had been wooed by the notorious marine biologist ladies man, Adam Sandler. The movie is set on Oahu, and immerses itself in local color pretty much from start to finish.
What it’s up against
Before we get to my thoughts on the film, let’s duel it against five other Hawaii movies I’ve already seen, shall we? As you know if you’ve ever added a film to Flickchart using the “By Title” feature, the new movie goes up first against the movie in the exact middle of your rankings. The outcome of that duel determines whether it faces the film at the 75th percentile or the 25th percentile, and so on, until it reaches its exact right place. With five movies, that means at least two and as many as three duels. Here are the films 50 First Dates will battle:
1) Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008, Nicholas Stoller). My Flickchart: #68/3603. Global: #1035. If you need proof of just how much I love Forgetting Sarah Marshall, when I was a guest on Flick Fights, the official Flickchart podcast, I (in)famously chose it over Jaws (my #1 Massachusetts movie). This perfect little film, about a guy who inadvertently stalks his celebrity ex-girlfriend on a trip to Hawaii with her new rock star beau, is equally adept at big laughs and big insights. It’s a sweetly funny exploration of heartbreak, rebirth, and puppet Dracula musicals, and what better location for such stuff than a gorgeous Hawaiian resort? The writing is terrific, but this movie is as special as it is because of the cast. The ensemble of Jason Segel, Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Russell Brand could not be better, and they even spun Brand’s character off to his own movie, Get Him to the Greek.
2) From Here to Eternity (1953, Fred Zinnemann). My Flickchart: #624/3603. Global: #439. Any clip package devoted to iconic romantic moments in film would not be complete without the image of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling around in the waves in From Here to Eternity. It’s as galvanizing an image of passion as you’ll ever see, and certainly as was available at that time. Of course, that’s just a single moment from this affecting best picture winner about soldiers stationed in Oahu on the eve of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, which also stars Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed and Ernest Borgnine. However, it’s a lot more about internal politics of the military (including who’s sleeping with who’s wife), loyalty and disloyalty among soldiers, and doing the right thing, than about war. Halona Cove on Oahu has become a tourist destination just because of the scene above.
3) Blue Hawaii (1961, Norman Taurog). My Flickchart: #2021/3603. Global: #6757. Frivolous confections don’t get more frivolous than this. Gone is the Elvis Presley who brooded and smoldered in Jailhouse Rock; this one just wants to have fun. Rarely has Presley been more loosey-goosey and easygoing than in this story of a man returning home from the army to Hawaii, where he’s pressured by his parents to go into the family business, but would much rather have fun with his guitar, his surfboard, his girlfriend and his buddies. I think that’s literally the entire plot. The island setting seduces you into the dreamy mindset this silly film wants you to have, and does so with ease. Interesting note: Angela Lansbury plays Elvis’ mother, even though she was only nine years his senior.
4) The Descendants (2011, Alexander Payne). My Flickchart: #2022/3603. Global: #944. On my second-to-last state, I thought it was finally time to discuss movies that are ranked consecutively on my chart. The Descendants may be only one behind Blue Hawaii, but it’s considerably less fun. Before this movie I would have sworn that Alexander Payne could do no wrong, but I ended up being pretty disappointed (by his standards at least) with this story of a Hawaiian land owner (George Clooney) coming to grips with the impending death of his comatose, unfaithful wife. It’s funnier than it sounds, but not nearly as funny as it means to be, though Shailene Woodley was rightly praised for her work as Clooney’s eldest daughter. The movie is a tonal misstep from a director who usually gets his tone just right.
5) Pearl Harbor (2001, Michael Bay). My Flickchart: #2213/3601. Global: #4269. It’s a testament to how much I like movies set in Hawaii that I could only find two ranked lower than 2,200 on my chart, and none that I thought would be fun to discuss. Pearl Harbor is fun to discuss, even if the discussion outs me as a guy who actually finds some value in it. Michael Bay’s first major stab at respectability was a colossal flop, critically if not commercially, and my advanced knowledge of its poor reputation is probably why I came out of it saying “That wasn’t really so bad.” The battle recreations of the famous Pearl Harbor attack are pretty spectacular, even if the romantic melodrama involving Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale is spectacularly cheesy. At least by ranking it lowest among Hawaiian movies, I can align myself a little more closely with the critical consensus.
First duel: 50 First Dates vs. Blue Hawaii. One word: Elvis. Blue Hawaii wins.
Second duel: 50 First Dates vs. The Descendants. Even when Payne descends to make his weakest film, Sandler has no shot at him. The Descendants wins.
Third duel: 50 First Dates vs. Pearl Harbor. Only one of these is truly a sinking ship. Pearl Harbor wins.
50 First Dates finishes sixth out of the six movies.
The on-screening pairing of Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore was — yes, I’ll use this word — lovely in The Wedding Singer. Re-teaming good screen couples rarely works, though; just talk to Richard Gere and Julia Roberts after they finished Runaway Bride. Still, Sandler and Barrymore were so — yes, I’ll use this word — cute together that I had reason to feel optimism, especially with the movie set against one of my favorite cinematic backdrops.
I was rather alarmed, then, to spend at least the first half of this movie simply aghast at its bad taste, crudity, and general idiocy. The fact that Sandler is cast in the role of Casanova heartbreaker is a bad enough start, but things get much worse when the attempts at humor begin. When writer George Wing isn’t having Sandler bark one-liners at frequent collaborator Rob Schneider as a stoned islander, he’s cracking wise with a seal or making cruelly dismissive comments about the gender and/or sexual preferences of the androgynous Eastern European who is his assistant (Luisa Strus). Nothing makes us like Sandler more than when he’s telling an unfortunate-looking woman (Strus is definitely a woman) that he’s “not into guys,” right? Unfortunately, Strus plays the role so broadly that you can’t really feel sorry for her either.
Things get worse, rather than better, when Barrymore appears, but not because of anything the actress does. Rather, we start to like Sandler’s character even less. Although at this point the movie is supposed to make him far more likable, and expends considerable energy doing that, the fact remains that the character is wading deep into the territory of seriously messing with someone’s head. I suppose we are meant to believe that the two are so compatible that any ethically questionable behavior he gets involved in is in the service of “true love.” It’s too bad the script spends so much time making him look like a frat-boy a-hole that we just don’t believe it.
I will admit that the movie is saved by some nice touches in its third act, which ultimately makes it the rare case of a movie that gets better as it goes along. I’ll even cop to getting a chill in the final scene, which is handled with such finesse that it really does feel like the ends justified the means. Sort of. That’s still well short of a recommendation, but considering that I felt naked contempt for this movie for its first 30 to 45 minutes, it’s a pretty agile recovery.
Last stop, everybody off! At the end of 50 weeks on the road, I’m going to be really, really tired. The Big Sleep, therefore, seems really appealing as my California movie, and the final movie on the trip.