A few days after seeing Aloha, I still don’t think I can describe what’s supposed to be going on.
To be clear, this isn’t a problem with me watching the film. Cameron Crowe’s latest feature possesses many of the charms that have come to define his films. With a cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams, there’s talent on-screen to draw audiences in. No, the problem with Aloha is that there’s actually nothing coherent to this film. It’s a project in search of an identity. It’s like Crowe took the (really) rough first draft for a feature and decided, “Okay, let’s make this now!”
The film’s problem begin in the opening minutes, as viewers are subjected to a voiceover from Brian Gilcrest (Cooper) about how life has brought him back to Hawaii after some years in the Middle East. In between his Hawaiian stints, Brian left the armed services to join a private contractor – billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) – after the 2008 economic collapse. Welch is eager to buy his way into space, a task made easier following the economic collapse by the military’s push for privatizing space. Brian botched a job for Welch in Kabul, the specifics of which are eventually glossed over, but finds himself drafted to return to Welch’s good graces if he can secur the blessing of the leader of the Nation of Hawai’i (Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, as himself) so that a new base can be built on the island.
He’s joined by a young fighter pilot, Allison Ng (Stone), for reasons that aren’t completely explained. Allison is essentially Manic Pixie Dream Fighter Pilot (which is fitting, since the term originated with a previous Crowe film). She’s enthusiastic about her one-quarter Hawaiian ancestry, and she honestly believes that the military can improve the world, just as long as it sticks to its ideals. She’s the idealist to Brian’s cynic, in other words.
That would be enough for a solid story, but it’s undercut by other subplots angling for attention. Gilcrest’s return to Hawaii also reunites him with old flame Tracy (McAdams), who’s now married to John (John Krasinski), who takes the strong, silent type to extremes. Tracy also has two children, one of whom was conceived suspiciously close to her break-up with Brian. On top of that, Welch’s impending satellite launch, which has ties to the groundbreaking job that’s brought Brian back to Hawaii in the first place, may have a hidden agenda. Aloha also attempts to discuss Hawaiian identity, both through Allison and the people of the Nation of Hawai’i.
There’s plenty of material to mine here, but rather than narrowing down his plots or expanding the feature to more adequately cover everything, the film brings up and drops topics with astonishing speed. Aloha feels like it’s cobbled together from some of the more successful elements of Crowe’s previous features.
On top of that: as talented as his cast is this time around, they’re not given much to work with. Cooper’s given a character with no consistency; his motivations seem to shift from scene to scene, with no reasoning. Stone, meanwhile, is given a character that’s equally top-class militial and a romantic softie. The film pushes Stone to play up her adorable nature, and while Stone can deliver that with ease, the film doesn’t give her much of anything else to do. Cooper and (especially) Stone deserve better.
Even with its lengthy list of problems, it’s a Cameron Crowe film, so there’s a certain quality that at least keeps it likable. That may make it less unbearable than it should be, but it’s not enough to make Aloha anywhere near good.