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Hawaiian Ay Yi Yi

Here’s a switch: Good novel makes bad movie.

Dec 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
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The second hour began and the movie improved somewhat, if only because it actually starts to have a plot at that point. The plot isn’t very involving, but it’s something to hang onto, and so perhaps that helped give the critics some reason to come out of the screening thinking they’d seen something worthy. 

So baffled was I by this misfire that I went and read Hemmings’s novel, and it made things seem even sadder, because it’s a good and interesting book and the movie is mostly faithful to it. One difficulty in the adaptation is the book’s characters are painted in far more shades of gray than in the movie, which flattens and sweetens them. In the novel, the 10-year-old is far stranger, the 18-year-old more justified in her anger at her mother, and the wife is slowly revealed as someone rather profoundly unattractive, in spite of her beauty and wildness.

The baffled reaction of Clooney’s character to his kids and wife, and to the circumstances in which he finds himself, are not justified by what we see on screen. But they are justified on the page through Hemmings’s careful construction of her story, and her genuinely interesting portrayal of an old Hawaii family so spoiled by centuries in paradise that they don’t have a clue what treasures they have received from it.

Payne had no trouble with shades of gray in his previous work. So what happened here? Why did Payne chicken out and sacrifice the toughness that characterized his earlier work? I don’t know. But judging from the reviews and the Oscar nominations he and Clooney and the movie are going to get, he’s gotten away with it.

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.

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