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Review: Aloha's Good Intentions Can't Rescue It

Michael C here to try to make sense of what I just watched. Cameron Crowe’s Aloha is one of the most bewildering cinematic experiences in recent memory.

Gone is the filmmaker behind Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire that could gracefully execute romantic gestures grand enough to capsize lesser movies. Gone even is the maker of follies like Elizabethtown who missed the mark by a mile but at least left a coherent mess in his wake. In his place is a guy that can barely scrape together a moment of believable human interaction in Aloha’s 105 minute running time. Crowe is so besotted with his notions of spiritual uplift against a mystical Hawaiian backdrop, so dizzy with big statements about life and love and redemption, that he appears to have lost his bearings completely. Aloha’s outpouring of emotion is fed into the malfunctioning machinery of the screenplay and spat out the other end as gobbledygook.

Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a cynic with a heart of gold in the Jerry Maguire mold. Gilcrest is a soldier coming off a series of vague professional disasters given the cushy task of obtaining a blessing from some native Hawaiians so the army can relocate an ancient burial ground (I think). Returning to Hawaii means seeing the girlfriend he ran out on eighteen years ago (Rachel McAdams) and her new family. Gilcrest is escorted on this mission by spunky young fighter pilot played by Emma Stone. The pairing generates all the romantic sparks of a guy babysitting his rambunctious younger cousin on a weekend road trip.

The blessing business is somehow related to Cooper’s mission to help Bill Murray’s loopy billionaire launch his own private satellite (again, I think) although the military is unaware of Murray’s ulterior motives. It gives a sense of how saturated in good vibes and sunshine Aloha is that its embodiment of sinister nuclear proliferation is a lovable Murray dispensing spaced out life lessons. 

Rest assured my summary makes the shambles of a plot much more intelligible than the movie itself does. At times the only thing keeping the story coherent is the foundation of clichés visible underneath the nonsensical surface. We know Cooper must redeem himself, win the girl, and side with the spiritually pure Hawaiians over the devious captain of industry. If you strain, you can almost make out the hazy outline of the film Crowe thought he was making, sort of a Jerry Maguire redux with a down and out soldier in place of a sports agents, and the Military Industrial Complex taking the place of the NFL. One reason Aloha doesn’t come anywhere close to that effort is that while Magure demonstrates a deep understanding of professional sports, Aloha suggests Crowe’s understanding of the military is based off of a distracted viewing of War Games in 1983. Aloha’s laughable climax is the equivalent of having Cooper save outer space by holding a stereo up to the heavens a la Say Anything's Lloyd Dobler.

Every scene of Aloha plays as if Crowe began by asking, “How would human beings behave in this situation?” and then made sure no trace of that behavior found its way onto the screen. Characters stand around spouting backstory and speaking the subtext aloud in lines like “I salute your elaborate system of denial, sir.” and “You sold your soul so many times nobody’s buying anymore.” These disparate parts are glued together with an endless series of slow push-ins on meaningful looks that don’t mean anything because we can’t project internal life on these shapeless characters. Aloha gathers a kind of anti-momentum as it rolls along. Ungainly scenes collide with each other at odd angles and pile up to little effect.

Aloha’s appealing cast of A-listers takes turns hurling the full force of their talent at this material to no avail. Murray and Stone fare best when they summon a brief burst of charm with an unexpected pas de deux on the dance floor but the moment is so divorced from the film around it that it might as well be footage from the wrap party. Similarly a late in the film twist for Cooper’s character comes closest to registering emotion, but it's too little too late.

As for Aloha’s clumsy navigation of the racial issues, the best one can say is there is no detectable malice to Crowe’s film. He clearly meant Aloha to be taken as a love letter to the land and its people, but as with the rest of the movie, Crowe seems oblivious to the gap between how he imagined it and how it turned out. He may have thought Aloha was insulated from charges of cultural appropriation due to the inclusion of a subplot that visits the Hawaiian independence movement, but this material isn’t enough to prevent Aloha from being yet another film where the culture of indigenous people is a cheap shortcut to spirituality for the sad white hero. Likewise, Crowe surely intended the mixed race heritage of Emma Stone's character to represent Hawaii's complicated cultural identity but any such thoughtfulness is lost in the film's inept execution, leaving it to come across as a cringe inducing symbol of Hollywood's practice of funneling the problems of minorities through the whitest possible characters.

Emma Stone is 1/4th Asian and 1/4th Hawaiian in "Aloha"I’ve already spotted frustrated film lovers lamenting the way ambitious, original films like Aloha and Tomorrowland receive a merciless drubbing from critics while lazy schlock like Furious 7 gets a free pass. All I can say is that I can’t review a film based on its symbolic value in the marketplace. I can only observe that on its own terms Aloha fails to work in just about every way possible. Of course there is a robust debate to be had on whether an ambitious belly flop from an auteur is worth more than competent schlock from a hack. Before Aloha I would have opted for the flop. I still would. But it’s tough to get through an ambitious wreckage like Aloha without having at least a twinge of doubt in that position.

Grade: D+

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Reader Comments (12)

"The pairing generates all the romantic sparks of a guy babysitting his rambunctious younger cousin on a weekend road trip."
Man, between Aloha and the Entourage, the last week has been gold for brilliant gibes.

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

This whole situation has made me sincerely disappointed in Emma Stone. You're an It Girl near the height of your powers and can say "yes" or "no" to any project under the sun. Working with Cameron Crowe isn't even the hot ticket it was 15 years ago.

It's really upsetting that she lacked the insight and self-awareness to understand why she's completely inappropriate to play this role. I can rationalize my love for her by blaming Crowe and producers but at the end of the day, she accepted the part. And played it. And even if you're not personally offended by her casting, it inarguably perpetuates the problem of minority erasure in Hollywood. It is at worst racist and offensive and at best super awkward and harebrained.

It's moments like this I remember that some actors are former child stars with no real education. People talk about Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman and Brooke Shields like going to college was heroic. I truly can't understand how, with all the resources and access in the world, more bright young people wouldn't decide to widen their frame of reference.

A PASSING encounter with the liberal arts would prevent this mess. The SLIGHTEST understanding of race and representation would suffice to stop her.

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

Also, I need Amy Schumer to write a sketch where she plays a half-Asian chick just for catharsis.

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

Emma Stone needs to let go of these flailing, hack has-been white auteurs. They are doing her career no favors. This whole controversy could have been avoided. But if you look at Cameron Crowe's description of the role on his site, she fits the role. He never had any intention of booking an Hawaiian actress. Reese Witherspoon was up for the part back in the day. Still haven't forgiven Crowe for what he hid to my girl Kiki Dunst.

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAbel


You name it i like it,such faves include diabolique,village of the damned remake,showgirls,mary reilly,the brothers grim,hudson hawk,catwoman,howard the duck,jade,supergirl,speed 2,striptease,1492,case 39,cursed,masters of the universe,jaws 3 the list goes on!!!!

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Any goodwill I may have had towards Crowe and Stone have been lost with the information that her character is supposed to be 1/4 Asian and 1/4 Hawaiian. While biracial men and women can appear to be Caucasian -- think of Wentworth Miller for example -- they are statistically rarer than individuals who are born with distinctive features from both sides. This is just appalling and lazy.

I suppose the silver lining here is that an actress like Maggie Q doesn't have this embarrassment on her resume, though if she had been cast, at least the movie would have just been bad as opposed to bad and racist.

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterF

"Crowe is so besotted with his notions of spiritual uplift against a mystical Hawaiian backdrop, so dizzy with big statements about life and love and redemption, that he appears to have lost his bearings completely."

Yikes, sounds like Crowe has developed full blown Lawrence Kasdan Syndrome.

I'd rather hoped the early buzz on this would turn around once people saw it. Oh well.

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Looks like lots of writers also came up with notion that that the dance scene came from the wrap party...?

"Stone and Murray stage a dance-off to Hall and Oates that’s appealing for reasons which should be self-explanatory, even if it might as well have been shot at the wrap party, for all the sense it makes to the narrative." -- Variety 5/28

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Maybe we just shouldn't be writing for minority characters who pass as white. Is it really that hard?

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

Love Miss Stone but did her character have to be mixed race?

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

A D? I would've given it a F for just being bloody awful.

June 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

It is incredibly hard to take Emma Stone seriously when she talks of her heritage and her passion for the land and their customs because of her physical appearance.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

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