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By Bobby LePire | August 6, 2019

“If a piece of knotted string can unleash the wind and if a drowned man can awaken… then I believe a broken man can heal.” – Quoyle, The Shipping News

This quote which ends Lasse Hallström’s film adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book (and presumably said tome as well) is the only thing I recall from that movie. Interesting the things we take away from a film, isn’t it? Even when some whole experience is a bit foggy. More importantly, it is the message of the quote. What does it take to heal after a tragedy? Even then, once healed, are you the same? Or have you fundamentally been altered to some degree?

These questions lie at the heart of the comedic drama Stoke; though the film’s breezy story retains that twinge of hopeful resilience implied by the end of the quote. Jane (Caitlin Holcombe) has been a mess ever since her fiancé died in an electrical fire. Spurred into action by a friend and the news of volcanic activity, Jane sets herself a quest—to journey to the newly formed lands.

“…Jane has been a mess ever since her fiancé died…”

Once on one of the Hawaiian Islands, she has a hard time finding a tour guide to the lava-made terrain. That is until she meets two hard up would-be tour guides. Dusty (Kauhane Lopes) and Pohaku (Randall Galius Jr.). They agree to take Jane on a personal tour for $200. But only after they complete an errand. As the trio embarks across the island, they are robbed, get high, and the van continually breaks down. Can Jane survive the trip before even reaching the final destination?

Written and directed by Zoe Eisenberg and Phillips Payson, Stoke is a highly enjoyable affair. The plot meanders a fair bit, not focusing on reaching the lava-created lands. Instead, the movie is all about the three leads and how they interact with each other. I hesitate to call it a slice-of-life film, as there is a bit more structure than that, but it is not plot-heavy either. In the wrong hands, that would be frustrating.

But Eisenberg and Payson created likable, occasionally frustrating, characters who feel very realistic. Even when they are acting foolish or not saying what they’re thinking, the audience always understands their point of view. This is not only a testament to the robust and witty script but also the actors.

“…not only a testament to the robust and witty script but also the actors.

As the beaten-down Jane, Caitlin Holcombe is outstanding. Her kleptomania is played more out of sheer boredom than anything else, which is pretty funny. She shares excellent chemistry with both Lopes and Gailus Jr. Lopes’s character gets the least amount to do, as he is mostly the same from beginning to end. But he makes for a good straight man to Po’s antics. As Po Randall Gailus Jr. is fantastic, proving with excellent comedic timing and a sense of gravitas to pull f any given scene with aplomb.

On the negative side of things, the ending does not entirely work for me. It is a fitting way to end their journey to be certain, but it does leave a few plot threads dangling about. Stoke runs just under 90-minutes long; 88, including end credits to be exact. Adding a 5-minute epilogue to see how this experience has changed everyone, for a proper catharsis, would not have made the film overstay its welcome. But this is hardly a dent in the rather impressive movie, all things considered.

Stoke focuses on human characters that need each other in the exact moment their paths intersect. These characters are brought to life by a fantastic cast and a script that rings with truth. All of it is shepherded under the impressive watch of its co-directors.

Stoke (2019)

Directed and Written: Zoe Eisenberg, Phillips Payson

Starring: Caitlin Holcombe, Kauhane Lopes, Randall Galius Jr., Kimee Balmilero, Jordan Turchin, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Stoke Image

"…her kleptomania is played more out of sheer boredom..."

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