It’s difficult not to mention a couple of things at the outset when reviewing Cameron Crowe’s romantic comedy-drama Aloha. First, there’s the issue of native Hawaiians. According to reports, many are insulted by the use of the film’s title. Calling it Aloha has stirred resentment. As reported by Access Hollywood, the use of the word in this manner shows a disrespectful misappropriation of culture, not to mention that something so rich with meaning should become so simplified. That’s one of the issues.
Then, whether Sony likes to be reminded of it or not, there’re those hacked e-mails. Internal work memos in almost any other industry would be of little concern to the general public – as long as everything is legal, how organizations run things is generally up to them – but the movie biz is something different; we all know the employees. Discovering that industry execs considered the film wrong from the start doesn’t help the already fragile ego of a filmmaker. Then, that criticism becomes worse when systems are hacked and private memos become public. No one is seen in a good light.
So sensitive has the issue of Aloha become that an embargo on reviews was put in to place. No one could print an opinion until just before the film opened. If you’ve tried a Google search for an advanced word, forget it; there’s nothing there. But that hasn’t stopped the Internet trolls. Some have expressed negative comments in social media, and others have even condemned the movie, which is all odd when you consider one thing: other than those Sony execs whose job it is to watch early prints and give opinions on how their money was spent, no one else has actually seen it. Until now.
Bradley Cooper is Brian Gilcrest, ex-military now a civilian defense contractor who is employed by multi-millionaire eccentric Carson Welch (Bill Murray, still nutty) to oversee the launch of a communications satellite from Hawaii. Or, we think it’s a communications satellite. There’s a murky feel to what Brian is actually doing there, particularly when he checks in to a for-your-eyes-only page and spies something else suspiciously attached to the plans for the on-coming rocket launch.
But that’s not the focus; that’s the reason to get the character to Hawaii. The main thing is the love triangle, or perhaps more accurately, the flirty triangle, between Brian, an ex-girlfriend living on the island now married with children and an ever curious air force pilot assigned by the military to watch over Brian and escort him every step of the way. The ex is Tracy (Rachel McAdams) and the pilot is Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone).
Being a Cameron Crowe film, music and pop culture references become integral in supporting emotions or highlighting events, thus in a flashback when Brian talks of his childhood and how he looked to the stars and “Saw the future, and it belonged to me,” The Who’s I can See For Miles plays gently in the background. Christmas on the island is established with Elvis’ Blue Christmas, and Rachel McAdams’ youngest has a poster of Jane Fonda’s Barbarella on his bedroom wall alongside the maps of stars and planets. Plus, when Alec Baldwin as U.S. Air Force General Dixon explains to Brian that nowadays what was once a private, governmental operation, such as a rocket launch, could now be financed by anyone, he states, “If Ke$ha wanted to fund and launch, she could.” Teenagers are one thing, but adults interested in a Bradley Cooper romance will have no clue who Ke$ha is, and neither, I suspect, would General Dixon.
The dialog, while often amusing, as in several of the bickering exchanges between Brian and his ever ebullient air force minder, Emma Stone, never once has the ring of truth. When they speak, characters talk as they would on the page of a novel, sounding as though written by someone who had only written books but never the more natural flow of a play or a movie script. On the other extreme, there’s also a wordless exchange between Brian and his ex’s nice guy husband, John (John Krasinski) as they silently nod at each other and give reassuring shoulder grips while subtitles below explain what they’re communicating. It’s a funny moment, and anywhere else it might be good, creative comedy, but somehow within the context of the film it still doesn’t work. In a different and more obviously comedic movie, yes, but here where Aloha is grounded in the real world, the moment doesn’t fit.
But if there’s one thing that all Crowe movies have is heart. Despite its narrative faults – and, really, you won’t believe any of it, neither the characters nor the situations – it does have heart and it expresses its feelings well. Emma Stone is hugely likable as the ever curious Air Force pilot with Hawaiian family connections, and it’s her character more than anyone that draws your focus. It’s a sure thing from the beginning that Cooper’s Brian needs to be with her, but we have to go through the motions of the contractor exorcising his feelings for the equally likable McAdams before fulfilling the obvious. Audiences should also be grateful for finally seeing a film where characters and not effects are the driving force.
As for being disrespectful to Hawaiian culture, for an outsider who has never been there – and that’s the majority of us – that’s a difficult one. On the surface, to most, it won’t appear so, but then again, most of us are not Hawaiian. If anything, the film seems to go out of its way to acknowledge home-grown resentment. At one point, during property negotiations, a Hawaiian chief states that the islands may be in America but they’re under military occupation. Plus, Emma Stone’s character absolutely loves everything Hawaiian and fully embraces her heritage, the ethnicity and the way of life. If anything, Aloha actually paints a positive picture of a wonderful part of the world. After seeing this, who wouldn’t want to live there?
In the end, the film with its romance, its tropical setting and the Christmas decorations that have nothing to do with the season, or the story for that matter, is the big screen equivalent of getting lost for a few hours in an involving though unlikely paperback novel on the beach during vacation. That’s the forum where these characters, their dialog and their conflicts work best. Perhaps Cameron Crowe should have written a book.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 105 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)