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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
'Hanoi Jane' Doesn't Understand Us
by Donald Levit

Crying out to have instead been double-entendre but un-PC titled “Love, Honor & Obey,” Love and Honor is a Vietnam War movie that unfolds in Ann Arbor, where the unmentioned famous fight song is “Hail to the victors valiant . . . conqu’ring heroes . . . leaders and best!” The setting of 215 Forest Street looks like a frat house but is a summer 1969 hippie communal living- and work-space. Danny Mooney’s feature directorial début could have lapsed into yet another sophomoric, flatulence jokey affair but rises above that popular type, partly because it is not easily anti-war, or pro-, but, rather, puts in a good word for the young men who were reviled for serving in that divisive quagmire.

In a Nam which a soldier remarks is more rice paddies than jungles, Indianan Dalton Wayne Joiner (Austin Stowell) has proven preternaturally skilled on replacing gunned down Tennessean “Moonshine” as platoon point man to spot booby traps. Even so, he and Michael “Mickey” Wright (Liam Hensworth) are alive only because Burns (Max Adler) took enemy bullets to save them.

Faithful to high-school sweetheart and imagined fiancée Jane (Aimee Teegarden), Joiner does not do drugs or drink or sex and is devastated by a Dear John from the now university student. Convinced there is an explanation of self-sacrifice, and on a week’s R and R in Hong Kong, as military personnel he flies home for free to put her and their love life and future straight. Tireless lady’s man Mickey shows up on the flight, too, to help out (and sweet-talk airhostesses over the Pacific).

The week is counterpointed against Apollo 11 buddies Armstrong and Aldrin on their flight away to adventure and then back to base, and interspersed with wishy-washy restagings of anti-war rallies. The roomy wooden house once so familiar to Joiner is now owned by well-off student publisher-activist Peter (Chris Lowell) and is refuge for those privileged enough to go to university and avoid the draft -- though not so, black non-jock jock Isaac (Delvon Roe) -- and idealistic and ignorant about what “American boys” are truly going through on the other side of the world.

To blend in and not be rejected, fast-talking Mickey allows the pot-smoking, beaded, tie-dyed crowd to believe that, far from stereotype war-mongers, they two are protesters who have deserted, gone AWOL (the original title), and face courts-martial and Leavenworth if caught.

Liberated, not “belonging” to any male, smooching with bearded Topher (Wyatt Russell) and reborn as Juniper, Jane is nevertheless impressed with what she thinks her man has done. Similarly in awe of Wright’s implied stance is Candace (Teresa Palmer), a reporter for Peter’s self-published newspaper and, to an extent, his girlfriend.

Not guilty of military or other misconduct so long as they make it back to their unit on time, the two soldiers need to keep up their masquerade without at the same time running afoul of wary local law authorities as “deserters.”

With Wright falling for Candy, the unraveling involves the resolution of the soldiers’ loves as well as their and others’ -- and the plot’s -- predicament vis-à-vis the War, conscience, country, duty and commitment. “Filmed entirely in the state of Michigan/This is Michigan filmmaking,” there is an amount of amateurish awkwardness to the whole, though that arguably is intended as a reflection of a stage in growing up. L&H does not descend to the infantile humor and language of many films about this age group and class. Without taking hard-and-fast sides on the conflict itself, it does defend the humanness of poor (again, two meanings), scared “baby killers” in the line of fire while underlining their dedication, not to politics or slogans, but to one another.

This ninety-six minutes is not deep, though nothing says it has to be, and is better than one would expect.

(Released by IFC Films and rated “PG-13” by MPAA.)

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