Review: Cameron Crowe’s Aloha Not As Feel-Good As It Wants To Be

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Hollywood often struggles to make fresh, lively romantic comedies. Earlier this summer we had the “anti rom-com” Play It Cool (a terrible movie), which continues a trend I really don’t like – because if there’s a genre where optimism and sentimentality works, it has to be romantic comedy. Spring brought us the transgender-themed comedy Boy Meets Girl which does capture that overwhelming sense of joy, making it a “feel good film” in the best sense; but summer, amidst the many blockbusters, won’t have many smaller-scale films to balance the slate. One of the few rom-coms we are getting is Cameron Crowe’s new film Aloha, which isn’t nearly as feel good as it wants to be.

Aloha stars Bradley Cooper as Brian, a former Air Force pilot now employed by a tech company (run by Bill Murray, who is very good as a cocky billionaire, but definitely underused). Brian is sent to Hawaii to negotiate land rights controlled by Hawaiian people for the satellite Murray plans to build, and is partnered with Emma Stone as Captain Allison Ng, a Hawaiian (1/4th Hawaiian, as is stated a lot) who is the military version of a manic pixie dream girl. Also in Hawaii are Tracy (Rachel McAdams); her husband Woody (John Krasinski); and Allison’s boss and Brian’s friend Fingers (Danny McBride), a character not as funny as his name and who requires none of McBride’s comic abilities. Alec Baldwin also shows up for about four scenes, screams like Jack Donaghy, and generally doesn’t seem to fit into the film.

Now, before we get into the movie overall, let’s discuss the issue of whitewashing in this movie, because it is definitely a problem. As I mentioned, Emma Stone plays “Allison Ng” (who they often refer to just as Ng), and spends a lot of time telling everyone that she is, in fact, Hawaiian, while providing exposition about Hawaii’s issues regarding land rights, spiritual folklore, and sacred sky. And though I don’t think it’s impossible that Emma Stone could be one-fourth Hawaiian (I have no idea what her ethnicity is), you have to realize that when you’re forced to spend so much time explaining that this character is Hawaiian, there’s really no reason why a visibly Hawaiian woman couldn’t have played her character. The fact is, the film gains nothing by having Stone play a mixed-race woman or talking about how she could pass as white, and they’ve only added confusion to a character that could have been even more interesting – not to mention they could have shown a woman of color in a true Hollywood leading role. Crowe certainly wants to address race and nationality in the movie, and there is a sequence with Hawaiians negotiating; but Stone’s casting still feels offensive, and for a movie which wants to embrace the culture of Hawaii, seems illogical and insensitive.

Emma Stone

As an actress, Stone is fine, and has that hyper and emotional-without-seeming-flighty-or-dumb quality the character requires. I’m not a Cooper fan at this point in my life, but with the exception of never committing to be as bad as we’re told he is, there isn’t much to say about his performance. I do like McAdams, and find her to be a good choice to anchor the film’s emotional weight, but she rarely gets to be comedic, and she is also underused and underwritten. The same can be said of Krasinski, who has been relegated to a small, almost non-speaking role that wastes a lot of opportunities for humor. Literally his only character trait is that he doesn’t speak, and we don’t know why – and the film isn’t wacky enough for that to seem funny or justify the ridiculous way they resolve the issue (which was just stupid). If the film wanted to suggest he was fighting PTSD, no one did the work to make that clear. The casual reference to PTSD regarding Brian’s life also borders on insultingly flippant. Considering this is a movie made about the lives of military men and women and their families (during a war), the movie’s romanticism of military life, while simultaneously using it simply as a backdrop, is bizarre to me as a civilian, and could feel insulting to those who served (such as using a military funeral for a romantic meet-cute).

As for the air space and satellites plot, I was confused by the twist Crowe includes for no apparent reason; it completely throws off the film’s flow, in a way I don’t think he intended. I once heard Cameron Crowe say that Local Hero is one of his favorite films, so he has good taste, because that movie is great; it’s charming, funny, unapologetically sentimental, and has something sincere to say about not sacrificing your land for profit. Aloha seems to be his most overt attempt to capture the same magic of that little movie, and using space and the stars in place of the Local Hero’s Scottish coastline certainly makes sense. But the moral conversations in this movie lack the artful debate and nuanced, dimensional characters for which Local Heroes is celebrated. Bill Murray is just a bit too much like a Bond villain for this type of movie (although I would like to see him play a Bond villain).

Cameron Crowe is a talented filmmaker, and there’s no doubt that he’s capable of making beautiful-looking films (which Aloha is) with inspired soundtracks (which Aloha does not have). But I also get the sense that he’s a director who is starting to ape himself. Watching this film that so desperately wants to have feel-good vibes, you sense he is building the film around the response he wants, which doesn’t make the movie feel organic. I hate the fact that we get the endings this film has (which seem unearned and lazy), especially because this is one movie, and Brian is one character, who shouldn’t have the happiest of endings.

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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