Love and Honor is a movie so artificial that it took every ounce of willpower I had to keep myself from grinding my teeth down to nubs. You almost have to admire the audacity of some filmmakers, moving forward surely aware that they’re involved in a project so few audiences are likely to take seriously. In one fell swoop, you will get the innocent playfulness of a lightweight buddy comedy, the sanitized sermonizing of a timid political commentary, and the unremitting sappiness of a Nicholas Sparks romantic melodrama. I’m not sure even he would be capable of a story like this; say what you will about him, and Lord knows I haven’t been the biggest fan of his work, but at least he shows consistency and focus. This movie can’t decide what it really wants to be. This is usually because of overreaching, but in this case, I don’t think its reach was long enough.
It’s set in 1969, which means, of course, that it’s a period piece. To be more precise, it’s set against the backdrop of 1960s American hippie counterculture, specifically in relation to the war in Vietnam and the Apollo 11 moon landing. In spite of the era, no apparent effort was made to give the film an authentic feel; I didn’t believe I was looking at a depiction of the ‘60s, but rather the ‘60s as filtered through the filmmakers’ limited preconceived notions. The hippie characters – the select few that populate the film, at least – are simultaneously whitewashed and developed solely on sweeping generalizations. The soldier characters don’t fare much better; audiences might have thought them deep and complex sixty years ago, when war movies by and large skirted more compelling issues, PTSD among them.
The film begins in Vietnam. There, we meet soldiers Dalton Joiner (Austin Stowell) and Mickey Wright (Liam Hemsworth), both of whom are curiously made to look as boyishly handsome as possible, even amongst the humidity, the heat, the dirt, and the combat. Dalton gets by on dreams of ending his tour of duty, returning to his hometown of Ann Arbor, and marrying his girlfriend, Jane, who has been sending him care packages and love letters. The last letter he receives is devastating – she has decided to stop waiting for him and move on with her life. Not long after, he and his unit get some R and R time in Hong Kong. Mickey, an insufferable ladies man with only sex on his mind, immediately plans a week of barhopping and women. Dalton, on the other hand, is such a love-struck fool that he decides to take a flight back to Ann Arbor and try to win Jane back.
Mickey tags along at the last second, in part because Dalton is his buddy, but mostly because he believes he can make any woman swoon with his courageous, and sometimes fictitious, war stories. Although both men are breaking the rules, they’re technically not going AWOL; they have every intention of returning to Vietnam when their R and R period is over. Upon their arrival in Ann Arbor, the all-American Dalton is shocked to discover that his beloved Jane (Aimee Teegarden) has changed her name to Juniper, that she has affiliated herself with the antiwar movement, and that her house has been transformed into a hippie commune that serves as the headquarters for a liberal newspaper. Initially greeted with scorn by Jane/Juniper’s friends, Mickey gets himself and Dalton into their good graces by falsely claiming that they both deserted the military in protest.
Several things inevitably happen. Dalton and Jane/Juniper, for example, will gradually realize that the latter has been irrevocably changed – save for the fact that she still loves him. Mickey, meanwhile, will meet one of Jane/Juniper’s friends, Candace (Teresa Palmer), arguably the most straight-laced antiwar activist in the history of antiwar activism; as they fall in love, which necessitates the addition of several saccharine scenes of physical intimacy, Mickey will reevaluate his devil-may-care attitude with the opposite sex while Candace will come to understand that the soldiers fighting in Vietnam aren’t the evil baby killers protesters have made them out to be. Also, Mickey will get into didactic spats with the ringleader of the commune (Chris Lowell), an arrogant student activist who wants to exploit Mickey and Dalton’s cover story for his paper. And then, of course, there will be a riot in the streets, during which it’s speculated that the voyage to the moon was used as a way to distract Americans from the horrors of Vietnam.
When I logged onto IMDb and discovered that director Danny Mooney is still in his late twenties, most of the little problems with Love and Honor suddenly condensed themselves into one gigantic fundamental issue: It was helmed by someone too young for the material. It needed to be in the hands of someone older, someone who not only lived through the ‘60s but also has a firm grasp of the decade’s social and political climate. I’d suggest Oliver Stone, but I think he has exhausted all stories related to the Vietnam era. Of course, a lot of the blame also rests with screenwriters Jim Burnstein and Garrett K. Schiff, who may be older than Mooney but are apparently just as limited in their vision. If you knew just how manufactured this movie was, especially during the final act, you’d understand the point I’m trying to make.
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