Monday, June 01, 2015
Watching Cameron Crowe’s Aloha is disorienting and vaguely depressing, as if a favorite relative suddenly started telling offensive jokes at a family reunion. Actually there’s nothing overtly offensive about Aloha, and I wonder if those complaining about the lack of native Hawaiian representation in the film are aware that there is a subplot explicitly addressing the relationship between native Hawaiians and the U.S. military. (I don’t remember a similar story arc in The Descendants.) But Aloha is over-caffeinated and schizophrenic, a hybrid of romantic comedy, thriller (?) and drama of Man Getting S--t together. If, like me, you saw Say Anything at an age when it made a difference then it’s dismaying to watch the degree to which Crowe has apparently lost control of both pace and tone.
Brian Gilchrest (Bradley Cooper) is a military contractor with a checkered past - there are many references and a useless flashback to “Kabul” - who arrives in Hawaii with a chance to reclaim his career. Brian must win the approval of a native Hawaiian leader for a new military project, and his companion is a young pilot named Allison Ng (Emma Stone) who isn’t shy about informing Brian and the audience that she is one-quarter Hawaiian. This insistence on Stone’s identity is the most clunky element of Crowe’s script, but once the attraction between Brian and Allison is acknowledged Stone’s performance snaps from Muppet-level broadness into reality and we remember why we like her. There are also Bill Murray (“Let’s cast Bill Murray as a billionaire who wants to weaponize space!”) and Alec Baldwin, whose role as a loudmouth general comes much too easily. The amount of time spent on a comic dance scene involving Murray’s and Stone’s characters gives me great hope for the Aloha director’s cut blu-ray, in which the film Crowe wanted to make will no doubt be revealed.
Then comes Rachel McAdams, who plays an ex-lover of Brian’s who is living on base in Hawaii with two children and a husband (John Krasinski) whose dislike of spoken English is elevated to the level of a fetish. McAdams is so believably human, harried, and confused about her future that I badly wanted her character to have her own film. Indeed, the scenes between McAdams and Cooper demonstrate that Crowe is capable of making a very good film about second chances if only someone would give him a budget. Instead we are treated to Crowe’s version of a James Bond climax - how ironic that the trailer for Spectre ran before Aloha - in which Cooper’s character attempts to save the world by throwing a rock-and-roll bomb at a satellite. If there is a lesson to be learned from Aloha then it’s a lesson for Crowe, who should scale his next script to the level of an HBO movie and then rely on the fact that top-tier stars still want to work with him. Aloha is a pleasant misfire, odder than even the famously unsuccessful Elizabethtown, but it is also a film that demonstrates Cameron Crowe hasn’t lost his talent for putting the human heart on screen.