Sundance 2022 Review: There’s a Lot to Look Forward to “Every Day in Kaimuki”

It took a while for Naz (Naz Kawakami) and Sloan (Rina White) to move in together in “Every Day in Kaimuki,” having known each for a decade and only becoming romantically involved in the past year. The two are the envy of others with their $1,200 a month apartment as prices are suddenly rising all the time on the island of Oahu, yet Sloan is beckoned elsewhere, landing a career opportunity in New York that will force the two to relocate, leaving behind a place most dream of retiring to and the only home they’ve ever known.

The twist in Alika Tengan’s highly appealing feature debut is that it isn’t Sloan who is gung ho about leaving, but rather Naz, who respectfully attempts to hang back as his girlfriend makes a decision for herself that’ll affect them both deeply. Naz would seem to have it particularly good in the suburbs of Kaimuki, seemingly without a care in the world as he works the night shift as a deejay at the local radio station, though he may give away his desires by playing CBGBs stalwart Richard Hell. When the biggest mystery life seems to hold these days is the discovery at the local record shop that Paul McCartney’s real first name is James, there’s no wonder that Naz has become excited about the prospect of starting anew, though his muted way of showing it becomes a problem when Sloan begins to waver and isn’t eager to broach the subject herself.

It may take Hawaii to establish the idea that it’s difficult to notice in paradise that anything is amiss, but “Every Day in Kaimuki” shrewdly moves further and further away from its setting as the central conflict of the film to explore the deeper issues Naz and Sloan have in their relationship and with where their lives are taking them, though from the look of it to anyone else, everything is going swimmingly. It’s a pleasure to watch when Tengan and Kawakami, who co-wrote the film beyond starring in it, capture the casual beauty of the land it takes place on, as much of a tribute to the people that live there as its geographic features, but it also allows for a strong sense of what Naz has begun to see in it – or rather not see in it – as he looks to greater challenges and new experiences. Some sly stylistic choices, such as square frame with sun-dappled cinematography that can begin to appear hazy and a well-timed aesthetic break when Naz’s plans start to fall apart, give weight to a story that might feel a little shapeless otherwise.

With the film acknowledging its production occurring in the midst of COVID with mask use, there are greater concerns in the world than if Naz and Sloan can get it together or not, but “Every Day in Kaimuki” couldn’t make the stakes feel any higher for the two as they quietly avoid a confrontation you know will inevitably come. Its protagonists may not have been born yet, but the film’s premiere at Sundance reminds of the great intimate, low-key dramas that played there during the early to mid-‘90s and while time is of the essence for Naz and Sloan, “Every Day in Kaimuki” resonates when what they’re truly up against is something more timeless.

“Every Day in Kaimuki” will screen in person through the Sundance Film Festival Satellite Screens on January 29th at the a/perture cinema in Winston-Salem, the Digital Gym in San Diego, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre in Baltimore, and mama.film in Lawrence, Kansas, and on January 30th at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle.