Take a Drink: Space!
Take a Drink: whenever Ng announces she is one-quarter Hawaiian.
Take a Drink: whenever someone tells Brian he looks awful (despite Bradley Cooper looking like he just walked off a GQ cover)
Take a Drink: every time a door blows open.
Take a Drink: Peppermint tea!
Take a Drink: whenever anyone talks about Hawaiian mythology. Take Two: when it’s the little boy.
Take a Drink: every time Brian longingly gazes at Ng doing something enchanting. She plays guitar! She dances! She is so full of surprises!
Take a Drink: every time people communicate telepathically. Chug: when there are subtitles.
Take a Drink: when you wonder what the hell is going on while trying to follow the plot.
Do a Shot: At this groaner of a line: “You sold your soul so many times nobody’s buying anymore.”
By: BabyRuth (Four Beers) –
You ever hear the story?/ of Mr. Faded Glory/Say “He who rides the pony must someday fall.”
-“Crown of Thorns” – Mother Love Bone
I hate to use lyrics from a song featured in two of his best films against him (I also hate kicking someone after they’ve fallen off their pony), but those quoted above could be used to describe Cameron Crowe himself. The critically and commercially acclaimed writer/director has been having a rough time at the box office since his successful run with the beloved Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous (not to mention penning Fast Times at Ridgemont High), leaving many wondering if his best films are behind him.
While his latest effort, Aloha, sure sounds like it could be a return to form: a quirky romantic dramedy/adventure set in beautiful Hawaii featuring an all-star cast (with a Bill Murray dance scene no less), it’s been doomed from the start to be yet another flop. During last year’s infamous Sony leak, a hacked email written by former executive Amy Pascal about Aloha surfaced which read, “I’m never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous. I don’t care how much I love the director and actors.” Ouch. The release date was delayed, there weren’t any early screenings, and reviews were under embargo until the official release. Then on top of all that the film received even more controversy for its supposed lack of cultural diversity and even for the title itself (a “disrespectful misappropriation” of the word aloha). Everything seemed to be working against this movie from the start.
But now it is actually here. So is this all deserved?
Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a former serviceman-turned defense contractor. He’s physically and emotionally scarred from something that happened in Afghanistan many years ago (insert Bradley Cooper/American Sniper reference here). Now working a soulless job for billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), he is tasked with overseeing a deal between Welch and the military to launch a satellite over Hawaiian airspace. Gilcrest must convince the native Hawaiians to agree to move their sacred burial grounds in order to build the Welch-funded launching pad on the land. A gate must also be blessed (or something like that).
Assigned for some reason to assist/watch/stand next to Gilcrest is plucky manic-pixie-dream-fighter-pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone). Did I mention she is also one-quarter Hawaiian? Because she is. She’ll tell you. Often. Gilcrest has no patience for Ng’s energetic gusto. Though seemingly all business at first, she’s also a dreamer like he was… once. Could she help him find the joy he thought was lost forever as well as his conscience all while making him fall in love with her at the same time?
Gilcrest is more concerned with another woman on the island, his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) whom he hasn’t seen in 13 years and is now married to Gilcrest’s semi-mute associate John (John Krasinski). Tracy and John have two children, 13-year-old Grace (Danielle Rose Russell) and a little boy, age unimportant, whose name escapes me so I’ll just call him NotLipnicki (Jaeden Lieberher) because he likes to spout off various Hawaiian myths until he doesn’t anymore.
I knew when I mentioned Lipnicki you’d go and Google what he looks like now so I did that for you:
He is 24 and you are old. You’re welcome.
The strongest element of Aloha is its dream cast of Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin, and Bill Fucking Murray! Each is just as reliable and charming as you’d expect even with Emma Stone terribly miscast as a part Hawaiian-part Chinese (?!)-part Swedish fighter pilot. (Let all that just sink in for a minute.) Cooper and Stone don’t have much chemistry, but they are both just so darn pretty and likeable that it almost makes up for it. Almost.
Rachel McAdams delivers an understated and beautiful performance as Tracy, arguably the best of the film.
At this point in his career, Bill Murray just has to show up and be Bill Murray and it works wonderfully with his character here.
“Did someone say Bill Murray? Here I am! Showing up. Being Bill Murray.”
The entire cast is great, and yes, that includes many actual Hawaiians so that criticism was unfounded at least.
There are some beautiful shots of Hawaii and the film treats the land and its culture with respect and love (so again, maybe wait to see a movie before declaring things as being #problematic).
Crowe is known for the thought and care he puts into his musical selections and that is evident once again here though there are no “Tiny Dancer”-type memorable moments. But look for some foreshadowing with Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”.
Despite the bad buzz, I was still optimistic about Aloha. In fact, all the negativity surrounding it made me want to like it even more. I hoped that it would turn out to be one of those divisive films that fans of would not only like but love (I being one of course) and say screw those who didn’t “get” it. I wanted so badly to go against the popular opinion, staunchly defend one of my favorite filmmakers, and tell everyone else why they were wrong.
At the very least I hoped that with Crowe’s vision and a winning cast, even if it wasn’t his best, it would still be an enjoyable and worthwhile way to spend a couple hours. I found things to like in Crowe’s worst-received films –Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo –both of which are still far better than most standard lazy rom-coms or Nicholas Sparks adcraptations. They have moments of that signature charm that fans have come to rely on from Crowe. That perfect musical cue. That unspoken look between two characters that speaks more than any words can. That aside or cut to something hilarious to break up a sad moment.
Crowe pulls from his repertoire and attempts all of those things once again, but sadly in Aloha’s case they never feel genuine. I do not doubt his sincerity, but nothing ever seems to land with the emotional resonance it requires. Even worse, these moments feel derivative of his past work. It’s like a magician making a long-awaited comeback and then performing the same tricks again, but instead of pulling a bunny from a hat, he pulls out a puppy to try to make it seem different. Or a band reuniting and not only playing their greatest hits, but playing every song ever recorded (which literally happens in this movie) because if you liked it the first time, here’s more!
There are glimpses where the film comes close, sometimes very close, but still misses. For instance, during one of the final sequences, again an attempt at one of those unspoken moments (and God, there are a LOT of them in Aloha), just when I was starting to get suckered in to feeling something and the “cry now” signal starting going off in my brain (it’s a pretty easy switch to flick because I’m a sap) I stopped and thought, “hey wait, did these people even speak to each other once in this movie? Where is this coming from?” Or a declaration of love from a character that has only known the other for maybe, what, a week? There’s no weight behind any of these grand impassioned displays making the end results feel empty and unearned.
The reason for this is likely due to editing, re-editing, and then editing some more. The film feels chopped up and haphazardly sewn back together. The tone changes from scene to scene and the plot(s) jump back and forth and back again, often leaving the viewer trying to make sense of everything going on. I’d be willing to bet there’s some great stuff that was left on the cutting room floor that if included, would pull everything together into a much better and more coherent final product.
Of course, a film can only be so long though, and there’s just too much going on here. This is Crowe’s most ambitious effort to date and it feels like three movies mashed into one.
Aloha was marketed as a romantic comedy, a story of two opposites clashing at first and then falling for each other, with a long-lost love thrown in to complicate things. That would have been enough to carry the film, especially with Cooper, Stone, and McAdams as the three leads. But then there’s also a subplot about a mysterious rocket launch, a wacky and perhaps evil billionaire, with some commentary on military-civilian relations, a history lesson of America’s colonization of Hawaii, plus some ancient folklore tossed in to the mix. And there’s still room for a fun dance number! It’s all over the place and it’s exhausting.
Just as much as everything is thrown together and piled on, it’s resolved absurdly quickly. The climax to the whole rocket thing is so laughably preposterous I wondered if Crowe added it in after the pushback from Pascal/Sony just to fuck with them.
I didn’t love it. But I didn’t entirely hate it either. Crowe tries. He tries so hard and I just can’t hate that. What I hate is that I have to follow the consensus on this film because I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t agree with it. I wanted so badly to like this movie. And there are moments when it’s clear that it could have been great; however it’s a jumbled mess and more disappointing than anything else. But I’m still holding out hope that Crowe still has another classic in him.