' ' Cinema Romantico: Aloha

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


“Tell me you don’t believe in the sky.” This is what Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone) demands of her superior, and eventual suitor, a military contractor, Brian Gilchrist (Bradley Cooper), pleading for him to see the atmosphere for the heavens, a place that is the playground of Hawaiian gods rather than the jurisdiction of the SDMC. It may as well be the same demand writer/director Cameron Crowe, the once heralded Oscar winner, now unofficial master of the rom com disaster, but evermore sentimental fool is making of us. Though “Aloha” is filled with real world concerns it nonetheless comes equipped with devout belief in the ineffable magic of the scenic landscape and indigenous culture of the archipelago in the Central Pacific. A young boy, Mitchell (Jaden Lieberher), a character who’s all traits rather than a whole person, a plague emblemizing the entire movie, is in love with Hawaiian myths, and you can tell Crowe is too. You can tell Crowe wanted “Aloha” to be his own Hawaiian myth – “Brian Gilchrist & the Space Rocket.”

Gilchrist is the liaison between the American military stationed on Oahu and an eccentric billionaire, Carson Welch, Bill Murray imagining himself as Richard Branson, who wants to a launch some uber-super-duper doohickey into space. The launch site, however, doubles as a sacred burial ground watched over by a fervent Hawaiian independence activist, Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele (as himself). Thus, Gilchrist, in tandem with Captain Ng, is dispatched to mediate terms. It’s a storyline completely counteracting the media’s pre-release allegation of no Hawaiians because, in fact, the film is primarily about America’s imperialism run amok over the islands. Well, not primarily; perhaps we should say…partially. And that’s a serious part of the problem.

Dubiously revealed as one-fourth Hawaiian, Ng is like Crowe’s attempt to appease in advance the people upset by a lack of native protagonists. Crowe’s heart is in the right place – I swear it is – but he’s standing smack dab in the middle of the forest, writing about the trees without, somehow, still being able to see them. General Dixon, played by Alec Baldwin, laments near the end “We never should have let civilians into space”, a truly odd takeaway in a film generally stressing free-thinking. You can’t figure out why in the hell there’s not a Bumpy Kanahele line countering it – “We never should have let white people into Hawaii.” The sky is one battle ground, Oahu is the other, yet politically the film keeps to the shallow end. When Gilchrist’s and Ng’s meeting with Kanahele grows terse, it suddenly shifts to a sing-along as Ng acquires an acoustic guitar and strums along like Joan Baez in fatigues. It’s classic Crowe, of course, that unshakable faith in music as a conciliator of all things. But in this case he’s unable to square his prominent earnest perspective with a film whose foremost twist involves a nuclear warhead.

All that could and should be enough plot but alas, that old Crowe fail-safe, the love triangle, appears too, pitting Gilchrist between his ex-flame, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to a decidedly non-garrulous pilot, Woody (John Krasinski), with two kids, and Captain Ng, with whom Gilchrist must obligatorily pine despite being put off by her aggressively outgoing personality. In a way, Ng is just an over-produced cover version of Kirsten Dunst’s much maligned character in “Elizabethtown”*, imposing her P.O.S.I.T.I.V.I.T.Y onto a broken down male until his cynical exterior cracks and gives way. (*Disclaimer: I stand by Claire Colburn, forever and ever.) Except the cynicism from which Gilchrist supposedly suffers after a tour of duty in Afghanistan is woefully undercooked. It's not backstory, it's a parenthetical. It's made worse because Cooper, while aptly turning on the charm when required, barely plays to this supposed battlefield paralysis. Whatever angst the character is carrying never shows up in the performance.

Amidst this romantic quagmire, a truly sublime turn by McAdams is left to rot. She has, as she so often does, a consummate effervescence that all on its lonesome embodies the enchantment of the islands, a mainlander who has been swept up in their mana. Yet her character is conspicuously un-evolved, trapped between This Man and That Man, left to their whims rather than her own, as though, echoing so much of “Aloha”, a serious chunk of something seems to have been left behind on the cutting room floor. Even worse is the ultimate complication of her marriage – that is, her daughter, Grace (Danielle Rose Russell), not being Woody’s but Gilchrist’s. This is a significant situation but one for which the film has virtually no adult nuance. It is presented blithely, like it’s a hiccup rather than a really big freaking deal, and the way it’s handled by all parties involved suggests a forthcoming lifetime of emotional scar tissue for the little girl who barely gets her own say in any of this.

The last scene, involving the daughter, is the film’s best. You’ll want to shake the movie screen and wonder why the whole film couldn’t strike this tone, sincere but also willing to finally acknowledge the confusedly elaborate nature of their dynamic. It’s the one moment when the film looks to the sky and believes, even with both its feet planted firmly on the ground.


Candice Frederick said...

Ughhh and i like Jerry Maguire tho, but this looks the way you've described (if not worse)

mercatiwriter@aol.com said...

Is this a movie that should have been made in the 30's?

Unknown said...

This film will help bring tourists to the islands, so everyone benefits!