Aloha September 6, 2015
There’s in a scene in Pedro Almodóvar’s visceral Broken Embraces where a jealous millionaire purposely sabotages a director’s film by using only bad takes during the editing process. Upon release, the film is a dismal failure, said to be a gigantic misstep by a major talent. It wrecks the career of the filmmaker, the millionaire receiving a sort of satisfaction comparable to a snake strangling a rat for the very first time. Years after release, however, the director’s luck changes — after the millionaire’s wrongdoings are discovered, a second opportunity to release the film, using the good takes this time, is offered. A semi-happy ending makes way for tomorrow when it transforms from an ignorable flop into an unrecognized masterpiece.
If only that was the case for Aloha, the worst film of Cameron Crowe’s career and a huge misstep for its jaw-dropping cast. It’s the sort of movie you want to like with your entire being — it has the makings of a classic. It has a tropical setting bound to take us into a faraway land where only the best things about life make themselves known. It roots for Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone as a romantic couple, makes Rachel McAdams a past fling, and turns Bill Murray into a slithering corporate giant rather than the usual deadpan scene-stealer. It has a sort of old Hollywood optimism that recalls why Crowe’s biggest hits (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) were such big hits in the first place.
But Aloha contains writing that could only sound good to a screenwriter and a screenplay that could only make sense to a screenwriter. A mini-prologue of sorts is supposed to explain things, when it, in reality, makes things harder to follow. One minute, Aloha is a romantic comedy, another a bittersweet dramedy, the next an environmental-issue film meant to inspire (“You’ve sold your soul so many times no one’s buying,” a character sighs to the protagonist after his untruthfulness is discovered). Characters bear motives so unexplained we can’t quite decide if we’re supposed to look at them with the eyes of a trusting cohort or an unconvinced skeptic.
Only Crowe, and possibly the cast, seem to know what the hell’s going on — we can only gaze in agony as a film that should have been glorious disintegrates into its own unintelligibility. It’s as if it were pieced together by an ensemble of overconfident filmmakers who thought they could make a movie in their sleep, have a good time with a load of actors easily afforded in Hawaii, and get the reviews of their life. But half-assing a film with a serious identity crisis/lack of interest/accidental incomprehensibility is a dangerous thing, and Crowe isn’t Howard Hawks. He’s a circa 1998 Prince in desperate need of a Musicology to spice things up.
Because the plot is a mess and Wikipedia doesn’t seem to be in the mood to help me out, I’ll explain Aloha in its most basic form. It stars Bradley Cooper as Brian Gilcrest, a disillusioned military contractor on call in Hawaii to make a deal that involves a future pedestrian gate funded by his billionaire boss, Carson Welch (Bill Murray). The sun-soaked job is made more interesting when he finds out that his former girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) lives on the island and is now married with children — and though they broke up nearly a decade earlier, he still harbors feelings for her. That might all change, though, when Gilcrest begins to develop feelings for his Air Force liaison, Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who sees life through a pair of curious, clear eyes.
Crowe also makes sure to write unnecessary roles for Danny McBride and Alec Baldwin, all the while managing to waste Murray and John Krasinski like it’s no big deal. It’s obvious that much of the film was tinkered with in the editing room — there’s a feeling that Aloha was planned to be slightly longer in order to, you know, develop the stakes, characters, and situation. One could blame the odd, hasty quality to the leaked Sony emails that derided the film for its whitewashing (consider that Stone’s character is supposed to be part Hawaiian) — but even if it were a few minutes longer, I’m not so sure Aloha would be a film comparable to (here I go again) Jerry Maguire or Almost Famous. So stricken with sentimentality and clichés is the film that it barely resembles the wit Crowe could once so affably place at the center of his best films.
The actors, all of whom are usually unbelievably charismatic, are suffocated by Crowe’s inability to make an effective film. There were times during Aloha where I wanted to dramatically break free from my headphones and laptop and sob hysterically into a pillow, most notably during the scene where Murray and Stone, two of my favorite actors, pause the world for a minute to dance and I felt nothing — the film is just too awful to cause any sort of emotional reaction. So while I could go into more detail regarding why Aloha is so terrible, it feels more like an impossible task not worth getting into. Its failure is too disappointing to want to relive. For now, I’ll go cry into that metaphorical pillow and see where it gets me. D+