Crowe delivers too much ‘Aloha’
Filmmaker Cameron Crowe is known for classic films like “Jerry Maguire” and “Say Anything.” So when he gathers an awesome A-list cast and sets his latest film right here in our backyard, of course interest will be high, so let’s just jump right into it.
Here are five questions for “Aloha.”
What’s it about?
Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a military contractor who returns to Hawaii to help an eccentric billionaire (Bill Murray) launch a private satellite into space. The US Air Force assigns Allison Ng (Emma Stone) to watch over him during his stay. It also just so happens that his ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) lives in Hawaii and is now married to a pilot (John Krasinski) and has two children. Sounds overly complicated? You’re right.
That great cast though! How are the performances?
Cooper has recently shown his strength and versatility as an actor and does a great job of proving that he can carry a film as a romantic lead as well. McAdams also brings a surprising amount of depth to a very thinly written character, and Krasinski does a lot with a few words as her husband. Stone, however, was the biggest surprise of the cast. Coming off an outstanding performance in “Birdman,” she regresses quite a bit in “Aloha.” Her cheerfulness and peppiness gets annoying fast and it’s as if Crowe basically told her to smile as much as possible the entire film.
So where does “Aloha” fall when ranking all of Crowe’s films?
Cameron Crowe is a master of creating relatable characters who aren’t romantic comedy clichés. He also has a great gift for amazingly brilliant and quotable dialogue. “Aloha” however lacks much of those qualities and even feels a bit awkward at times with some questionable character choices and uneven editing. The film’s tone is inconsistent and feels disappointingly generic at times. While there are a few specific scenes where Crowe’s unique charm really stand out and remind you of how talented of a filmmaker he is, “Aloha” is my least favorite of his films.
Will Hawaii residents recognize any of the locales in the film?
The majority of the film takes place on Hickam Air Force base, but the characters do venture out a few times to Chinatown. But other than a visit to a mountain camp where some native Hawaiians live, there’s not much else to see.
So here’s the real question we all want to ask. Does “Aloha” do Hawaii right?
In a word, no. But it’s definitely not for the lack of trying. And man, does Crowe try. He tries so, so, so hard!
I wrote a blog a few days back about my concern of the all-white cast, and in that blog I wrote that I understood that the stars have to be crowd-drawing Hollywood names, but hoped that at least some of the supporting characters would be more reflective of our diverse population. But as stated above, the majority of the story happens on base and rarely involves characters outside the ones shown in the trailer, so I guess the film gets a marginal pass on that issue.
My real issue with “Aloha” is how Crowe force feeds the audience aspects of Hawaiian culture in a way that has absolutely no relevance to the story. A young boy arbitrarily can’t stop talking about the legend of Pele at the start of the film, but then it never really goes anywhere. The two main characters awkwardly spout off Hawaiian words such as “mana” just to prove that they know a little bit about the language. There were other references such as the discussion of “menehune,” where I literally rolled my eyes because its inclusion was just so contrived.
But the worst crime was the inclusion of Bumpy Kanahele and his sovereign Nation of Hawaii. Gilcrest and Ng visit Bumpy’s Nation of Hawaii to get him to agree to perform a blessing ceremony. At first, I was very happy to see some Pacific Islanders on screen and the genuineness they brought to the movie. The audience is introduced to Bumpy (playing himself) and is treated to a nice kanikapila with one of my favorite musicians, slack key legend Led Kaapana. It was a very nice scene and at the time; I was actually smiling in my seat, hoping there would be more of that later in the film.
But then the scene ends and Gilcrest tells Ng that while the Hawaiians will talk on and on about the importance of the land and their spirits, all they really want is property and money. Wait… what? Did I hear that right? Yes, I did. Bumpy has stated in the media that he’s given his blessing to the film, but he wasn’t in that scene, so I’m wondering if he knew it was in the script. Sure, Gilcrest’s character has to have some flaw so that he can redeem himself later in the film, but I thought this was highly inappropriate. It just isn’t right to show the beauty of Hawaiian culture one minute, then basically call them all fakes and sellouts the next. What makes matters worse is that the entire episode with Bumpy proves irrelevant as the story unfolds. The whole scene could have been taken out of the film and it wouldn’t have changed anything.
Crowe obviously did his homework on Hawaii and it’s as if he couldn’t wait to show off all he learned. But a writer as talented as he is should have been able to blend in the cultural aspects of Hawaii in a natural way that lends to the story rather than awkwardly shoehorning them in. Cameron Crowe calls “Aloha” his “love letter to Hawaii.” It hurts me a lot to say this because I’m a huge fan of his work, but it’s more like he dropped some money on the dresser on his way out to thank us for the good time.