Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
It’s difficult to process that Aloha is a Cameron Crowe film considering the film’s monotonous tone and overwhelmingly expository dialogue. It feels like the project of a first-time writer-director attempting to find his identity. It’s surprising, then, that this is a film from an acclaimed storyteller with a propensity for compassionately engaging with our most base emotions. The film is a passionate misfire through and through; Crowe deeply cares about the subject matter and his characters, which makes it all the more frustrating as a viewer that he can never string together a cohesive narrative with all of this mish-mashed parts. This is obviously two interesting ideas that have been melded together with the super glue of Bradley Cooper’s Brian Gilcrest, who drives both narratives but never establishes a strong foot in either one. If the first half of the film were not so catastrophically obvious and dialogue-driven, the film could have achieved something more, since the morality of the film’s message is apparent. The subtleties and humanity that emerge in the second half are affecting, yet would only work as a whole if Crowe fully developed his story.
The aforementioned Brian is a a seasoned military contractor working for a company headed by billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), a man who wants to launch his own satellite into space. Due to certain laws passed during the 1960s declaring that space does not belong to any country or person, Welch has the opportunity to do this without any restrictions, even if his intentions are a bit shrouded in secrecy. Nonetheless, Brian travels to Hawaii, his old stomping ground, to christen a new bridge and work with military officers on the bases in the state. That includes being greeted by old friend Colonel “Fingers” Lacy (Danny McBride, whose character has a knack for wiggling his fingers when he speaks), old fling Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), her husband Woody (John Krasinski), and established, serious officer Allison Ng (Emma Stone). Brian must visit with local Hawaiians to ensure they are okay with potential land changes due to the military’s presence, and the natives are far from accepting of the military’s decision making. Brian also explores his romantic options, which include flirting with married Tracy and wooing Allison, a stern-faced woman without any commitments.
The biggest problem with Aloha is that the synopsis I just wrote barely scratches the surface of the storytelling. There are simply too many subplots, characters with speaking roles, and so little subtlety because everything is explained through dialogue with a shred left unspoken. Crowe’s film is glaringly dumbed down to a fault, with insincerity running rampant in the first half. These characters speak their emotions like soap opera stars and explain everything to the audience; it’s insulting. The performances are particularly strained and unsettled in the first half. The reason I keep qualifying the first half as being a train wreck is due to Crowe’s merits standing out in the second half; there’s little dialogue in the final half hour and the story begins to find a voice in one of its stories. The problem remains, though, that at least two stories are given front billing, and another never jives. Crowe is an enormously talented filmmaker; just watch …Say Anything or Almost Famous again if you need a reminder. Aloha, though, is a film that only has a strong sense of setting but little else that becomes established. It’s never a convincing story, even when Crowe wears his heart on his sleeve in the final moments.
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)