Aloha Review


You’re enjoyment of Cameron Crowe’s Aloha will likely be dependent upon how much you subscribe to and are interested in film’s auteur theory—or the idea that a director’s personal creative vision is the driving force behind a finished onscreen product.

Filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese are proof positive of the theory; Their films are very easily identified. I’d argue Crowe—he of Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire, and Singles fame, as well as Elizabethtown infamy—is another easy-to-nail-down auteur. Those going in should expect to see a flawed but redeemable man fall for a woman before an excessively demanding and/or morally compromised job threatens the relationship. There will be hit music and movie stars galore.

It’s a formula that’s worked and not worked in the past, which makes Aloha‘s critical drubbing a little difficult to understand. This is a fine movie with some good moments and some really not good ones. It’s well-intentioned and delivers on exactly what’s promised. It looks nice, and there’s great chemistry among all the principals.

Bradley Cooper stars as Brian Gilcrest, a disgraced military contractor trying to rebound after surviving a missile attack in the Middle East. He’s brought back to his former home base of Oahu by billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) to negotiate with the sovereign locals a peaceful agreement on Welch’s behalf to send a satellite from Hawaii into space.

He’s a little nervous to be back on the island because it’s been 13 years since he last spoke with the woman he loved, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who’s now married with two kids. Thankfully, he’s forced into the company of hot fighter pilot Alison Ng, his chippy liaison, and can focus in on his work, instead.

Those calling these three characters’ interactions a love triangle are mischaracterizing the situation. Crowe shrewdly removes any doubt in the film’s romantic conclusion early on. That allows us to accept the real love story as the film’s main thrust—one that perfectly serves Crowe’s patented male redemption angle. The other “love story”—a decidedly acute angle if one must maintain the triangle framework—is a subplot. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes clunky, not unlike the film itself.

Aloha is at its worst when it’s trying to explain away rocket science and the military-industrial complex. Several meta-funny attempts to explain it away are made, but Crowe can’t bridge the gaping chasm between his two movies. Aloha the romantic comedy is funny and charming. Aloha the stakes-filled science thriller is even funnier but in a very different way.

That said, there’s something delighful about Aloha‘s faceplants. It raises a great question: Is the “so-bad-it’s-good” movie a reality? I never thought so, and still don’t fully. Classifying Aloha in that way is reductive because plenty of it is so good it’s good. But aspects of the film are so stupid I genuinely enjoyed them.

Then Bill Murray and Emma Stone dance, and I’m like, “This movie is everything I hoped it would be.” Movie stars do movie star things, and maybe in 2015, society and the critical class aren’t asking for that. But hell, I enjoyed the shit out of Stone’s Stone-ness, Cooper’s Cooper-ness, McAdams’ McAdams-ness, and Bill Murray’s Murray-ness. Alec Baldwin has two scenes, flips out in one, and steals the show. John Krasinski is the world’s most handsome mute. And beautiful Hawaii explains it all away perfectly.

I totally get the criticism, but I think the film’s detractors are projecting a bit. Crowe is a one-lane kind of filmmaker, and that lane isn’t Steve McQueen’s lane, Richard Linklater’s lane, or Stanley Kubrick’s lane. He strives to be Wilder for the iGeneration, and he’s come close on a few occasions. But don’t let fond memories of John Cusack with the boombox fool you into thinking Crowe wants to change cinema with every scene he films. He does one thing well—sometimes better than others—and there’s nothing wrong with a movie from a good or great filmmaker being fine. Aloha is fine—a pleasant diversion. I look forward to the man’s next pleasant diversion.

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