Review: “Aloha”

Aloha is complicated.

It’s equal parts romantic comedy, triumph in facing a past life and love, political statement, and saving the world, all on one busy Air Force base in Hawaii.

Unforgiving cynic and sell-out Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) returns to the site of a life once celebrated but all forgotten. He meets Allison Ng (Emma Stone) — like “raining” without the “rain” — an energized Air Force up-and-comer and incessantly proud Hawaiian who’s asked to babysit Gilcrest, who has a messy reputation, as he tries to close a deal forever partnering a corporation to the military.

There’s his past love, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), with whom he has unresolved issues, and a bevy of really good actors playing complementary roles. Yet, it’s far from writer/director Cameron Crowe’s best work (Almost FamousJerry Maguire); but to be fair, that’s a pretty unrealistic expectation. Still, there are flashes of brilliance in the work that remind me why I’m such a big Crowe fan.

  • A found-footage opening reminiscent of Almost Famous, although its opening frames were live shots. Both excellent setting builders.
  • A playful dance scene for Stone and Bill Murray that must have been difficult for the actors to do because it was so terrifically strange.
  • A mysterious scene in the bar when the camera cuts around a circle of insiders — Carson Welch (Murray), Bob Largent (Bill Camp), Colonel Lacy (Danny McBride), etc. — as they all look mindful of Gilcrest’s movements, especially his conversation with General Dixon (Alec Baldwin). It’s unlike anything I’ve seen, unsettling an intoxicating feeling of being watched.
  • Two terrific scenes between Gilcrest and Woody (John Krasinksi), during which neither speak but a lot is said. The first one gets no subtitles, enabling one happy bit of comedy. The second does, emphasizing its importance.

Crowe has drawn colorful characters you can’t find anywhere else — Krasinski’s is evidence of that. He doesn’t speak much at all. Woody’s young son, Mitchell (Jaeden Lieberher, from St. Vincent), is a curious little filmmaker-to-be.

Stone’s role has been under fire from those who feel Hawaiians were slighted in the making of the film. Ng is flamboyantly one-quarter Hawaiian, which Stone is not, but it’s better to take the film for what it is — a work of fiction. Getting past that barrier, Stone is rather good. Ng drives the film’s emphasis on Hawaiian culture, it’s mythology and superstition, which sometimes borders on over-powering. Why does Ng need to remind us she’s 1/4 Hawaiian so often? Then again, Ng can be an over-powering person sometimes, so it fits.

Aloha is only 105 minutes. More often than I’d prefer, it’s moving really fast, asking you to keep up with the story when you’re a few paces back. A climactic satellite launch scene at the end of the film is one example. There are also a lot of stars deserving camera time who can’t get it, but they’re a bunch of likable, good actors.

I’ve been waiting to see Aloha since it was an Untitled Cameron Crowe project starring Stone, which feels so long ago when maybe the Hawaiian myths explained in the film were actual realities. No, it couldn’t have lived up to my expectations, but I’m glad it’s finally here and, yes, I liked it.

So it’s a lot of things — sometimes too many things — but it’s still good.

“Aloha”: ★★1/2

 

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