Aloha (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
1Sep/150

Aloha (2015)

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Brian Gilcrest, military contractor, goes to Hawaii on a job and encounters his ex-girlfriend.  Along for the ride is Captain Allison Ng, his military liaison who wants his stay to go as comfortably as possible.  But as Brian works out his issues with his ex, he has to deal with his growing attraction to Allison and figure out whether the job he came to Hawaii for will violate his childhood principles.  Cameron Crowe writes and directs Aloha with stars Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, and John Krasinski

This is a thing that's happening because scienceAbout halfway through Aloha I was struck with a sensation I've never had before.  Brian (Bradley Cooper) is sitting around his hotel room with Allison (Emma Stone) and the two are flirting hard.  I wanted a sex scene.  Not because I was caught up in the passion of the moment or the sexual tension, but because I wanted them to shut up.

Aloha's screenplay is one of the worst I've seen committed to film.  This is a shame because writer / director Cameron Crowe is usually reliable for turning in at least one or two scenes were the sentimentality amounts to compelling moments if not a triumphant whole.  But by the time we got to the scene where the romance between Brian and Allison is challenged because of what Brian knows about a secret military payload in a rocket set to deploy in a couple of days while Brian's ex-girlfriend drops hints about the parentage of her oldest daughter and the father silently stares through each scene...well.  "Overwritten" may be too kind a word here, so I'll keep with the sentimental spirit of Crowe's movies and go with "clustercuss".

There's a recognizable humanity in Crowe's movies which works well with the sentimentality because Crowe is good at getting to the pain and anxiety behind closely felt emotions.  I didn't recognize any humanity in Aloha because everyone plays like a parody of earlier Crowe characters.  Right off we get an overwrought voiceover explaining childhood dreams deferred before seguing into the disheveled (for Aloha, anyway) Brian as he's greeted by Allison while she launches into different religious and cultural details about the Hawaiian land.  We'll learn plenty of things about Brian as Aloha goes on, but what Allison sees in him will remain a perpetual mystery as she's bound up with expository dialogue explaining the different visuals Crowe references.

Hawaiian culture is relegated to anecdotes and visual flavor.

Hawaiian culture is relegated to anecdotes and visual flavor.

Allison's character is a damn mess, and even though Crowe has written women as cyphers in the past (Elizabethtown's Claire Colburn comes to mind) Allison is just inexplicable.  During the sudden burst of fighting which punctuates the transition into the third act she gets teary eyed and tells Brian, "I just got real with you, I never get real."  Which is perplexing because all she's been this movie is a gigantic, adorable, open and honest person who just wants Brian's shell to crack so the two can get back with the sweet Hawaiian love.  If she's only getting real in this moment, what was she prior to this point?

Looking at some of the earlier scenes provides a helpful answer and none paint Crowe's screenplay in a positive light.  An earlier argument between Brian and Allison is solved by Allison making goofy faces and the two of them smiling.  Then there's something about Hawaiian leprechauns, warrior spirits, rituals, and other island rigmarole which serves to add local spice to the bland screenplay instead of meaningfully commenting on Brian and Allison's relationship.

Meaningless cultural appropriation turns out to be the norm in Aloha, as the natives and their ways serve no purpose other than adding pretty visuals and convenient time-wasting anecdotes.  Crowe rightly took a lot of heat for casting Stone as the 1/4 Hawaiian + 1/4 Chinese + 1/2 stock inspiring character of Allison, and his answer to why is illuminating to the problems in Aloha.  He said Allison's character is proud of her mixed heritage even though she doesn't look like one, but the culture we see on display in Aloha is all about appearances going so far as having Crowe stage a smoky warrior cabal approaching Brian and Allison in the dark.  Stone's an excellent actress, and she does well with the paltry material she has here, but as a decidedly not mixed-ethnicity character spouting about the culture while Crowe surrounds her with constant visual reminders - well, it comes off phony as hell.

Subtle cinematography is at work in Aloha, but it at least provides an interesting detail or two amid the typical prettiness.

Subtle cinematography is at work in Aloha, but it at least provides an interesting detail or two amid the typical prettiness.

This wouldn't be so bad if Crowe wrote anything else in Aloha with a sense of humanity, but he just writes subplot after subplot with happy endings always in sight.  Poor Rachel McAdams is given the thankless task of withholding a secret from Brian he, and we in the audience, guessed early in the movie so their tearful ending drags out far longer than necessary.  John Krasinski plays her husband and given almost no lines so Crowe can provide playful subtitles to what he is saying non-verbally, when with the right acting what Crowe is trying to get Krasinski to say would be clear.

Now, there's an interesting shift in mood when Aloha's bit players, Alec Baldwin as an all-business general and Bill Murray as an all-pleasure CEO, hit the scene.  They hit their lines with anger and weariness, then Murray indulges Crowe in a too-long dance sequence where he looks like he'd rather be fending off Ghostbusters 3 rumors.  But their scenes have edge, and I realized it's because they are the lone monuments of cynicism in Aloha's world.  Crowe pushes against cynicism, and it resulted in some of the greatest character revelations with the father / daughter relationship in Say Anything, but here Crowe relegates the cynical voices to the sidelines and overwhelms the screen with positive vibes.  So Crowe has nothing for his characters to push against, and all we have left are funny faces and quirky dialogue.

Crowe still shows he's a capable director.  There were a number of small visual touches I liked, such as the subtle cinematography in having Cooper and Stone meet in the precise location where their argument would be foregrounded by one plant leaning into another.  The absurd climax also brought a smile to my face because it was at least unexpected.  But Aloha proves charm and jokes alone can't drive his films and there needs to be someone barking that he's going the wrong way.  Otherwise those funny faces are all for naught.

If you enjoy my writing or podcast work, please consider becoming a monthly Patron or sending a one-time contribution! Every bit helps keep Can't Stop the Movies running and moving toward making it my day job.

Tail - AlohaAloha (2015)

Screenplay written and directed by Cameron Crowe.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, and John Krasinski.

Posted by Andrew

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