Stoke

Jane (Caitlin Holcombe) is a heartbroken Los Angeles attorney craving something big to shake her out of her depression. She sets her sights on Hawaii, but not necessarily the one seen on postcards. She’s going to chase lava, so she goes to the Big Island and hires two wannabe tour guides in the shadows of erupting Kilauea.

Locals Po (Randall Galius Jr.) and Dusty (Ka’uhane Lopes) are actually cleaners with tourism-dollar aspirations, but that won’t stop them from tricking Jane into their van, and ultimately their lives as the trio sets out on a Big Island road trip with distinct Hawaiin vibes.

Hawaii itself is the epic fourth character, asserting itself in nearly every scene, from its lush landscapes and hypnotic music, to the spirit of its people and the cadence of the natives’ speech.

Sean and I were lucky enough to visit Hawaii just a few years ago and were unprepared for but completely swept away by the natural beauty of the land and the welcoming hospitality of its people. We toured several of the islands, Big Island included, so it was a real treat to see some familiar sights in this film. But more than that, Stoke (a lava drama) shows us the side of the island little seen by visitors. It’s a reminder that volcanoes don’t perform for tourists, and an eruption has real-life devastating consequences for the people who live there year-round.

Stoke is a bit of a wild ride, embracing its independent roots by taking inventive chances and boldly charting its own course. In a strong cast of actually-Hawaiian Hawaiians (we’re looking at you, Aloha), Galius Jr is a stand-out for his unforgettable smile and screen presence. Directors Phillips Payson and Zoe Eisenberg have put together a thoughtful piece about the healing properties of America’s most beautiful state.

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