There is nothing worse than going into a movie with extremely high expectations, and leaving extremely disappointed. Well, maybe being burned alive is worse, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. Still, over the years, I’ve gone into movies with high hopes, just to have those dreams horribly crushed. Cameron Crowe’s Aloha was such a movie. What’s funny is Aloha was a victim of the 2014 Sony hacking, and in said hacking, emails were leaked discussing what an awful mess the movie was. Unfortunately, the memo was not brought to my attention.
I saw Aloha on the eve of my high school graduation, and until I saw the terrible reviews, I expected great things. Crowe directed one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous, as well as charmers such as Jerry Maguire, Singles and Say Anything. The film starred Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, and Danny McBride. How could this be bad? Well, recalling my experience with this film, I quote Albert Goldman from The Birdcage:
“How do you think I feel? Betrayed, bewildered…”
Sitting there in the theatre, I was indeed bewildered. Bewildered by the star power. Bewildered that a filmmaker and writer as talented as Crowe could write something so inept. Bewildered by the fact that I was watching a romantic comedy that wasn’t romantic nor funny, and it featured a central storyline that, quite frankly, didn’t make any sense (a fact that was mentioned in said emails). So, for the hell of it, tonight we decided to revisit Aloha, mostly because it’s such an interestingly bad movie; one of those cases where you sense that the original screenplay might’ve been fine, but something went very wrong along the way. It was a lot of fun- not because of the movie, but because of the wine. Aloha the movie has done anything but age like a fine wine; it’s perhaps worsened.
I’ll just come out and say it: this film doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. Like football, I’d tried to understand it, more than once, but it never clicks (football, however, probably makes sense to a large number of people). I had an easier time grasping the premise of Tenet, and that film was intentionally confusing. Revisiting Aloha, I began to wonder at what point the cast members began to experience the confusion. They put a good face on it, honestly. These actors are as beautiful as Hawaiian scenery (which we, oddly, barely get to see any of), and are so fine that they’re doing a good job of pretending that they know what’s going on. Shoot, maybe they did. Maybe Crowe had a 3 hour movie, and was forced to cut it down, and we got this Frankenstein’s monster of a movie that doesn’t work at all.
I’ll gather what I can of the story, but don’t expect much. Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a… pilot? I don’t know, who arrives in Hawaii to work on a satellite or something. These opening minutes sort of set the tone for the rest of the movie. When the plane lands, it seems like a happy occasion at the airport. Then we realize that it’s a military funeral service. Who died? Uh, I don’t know, but soon a woman (McAdams) locks eyes with Gilcrest during the service, and I don’t know if she had any affection or relation to the deceased, but she sure doesn’t act like it; the second she sees Gilcrest, you sense that she wants the service to end so then she can hop on him (more sympathetic, I could not be). Said woman is Tracy, Brian’s former fiancé from 13 years ago who now has children with John Krasinski, whose character trait is that he doesn’t speak. The reunion between Brian and Tracy is interrupted by pilot Allison Ng (Stone), who is there to observe Gilcrest. I say that this scene sets the tone for the rest of the film because all of this happens in about three minutes. We know nothing about these people, they all apparently know each other, and the camera spins as their banter continues and honestly you feel as if you’re spinning. These are three fine actors, but nothing in Aloha is ever given the chance to develop, as if Crowe made the film with a gun to his head… and it’s his movie, and screenplay.
So, let’s address the Hawaiian elephant in the room: Emma Stone. Now, I’m not one to get my panties in a wad over whitewashing. Sure, authenticity certainly helps, but in certain cases I’m understanding. This… is not one of those cases. Ng discusses how she’s half Chinese and a third Hawaiian; she also constantly spouts information about Hawaiian lore, and it’s just… false. Emma, honey, I love you, but you’re like, white. Like very white. The casting isn’t as bad as it is absurd and laughable; who thought this was a good idea?
So yes, Ng, played by the obviously Chinese Emma Stone (even her name is white) is there to watch Gilcrest as he is involved with a deal with some billionaire (Murray) over a satellite. Revisiting this film, and remembering how the stuff with the satellite didn’t make any damn sense, I kept wondering just who this film was for. Because its romantic storyline isn’t necessarily engaging because you get nothing from these people, the film itself isn’t particularly funny. It’s not charming, it’s not funny, it isn’t anything. Conversation after conversation, I confess that I barely ever knew what the hell any of these people were talking about, and I kept wondering if the actors did either. A good chunk of the storyline involves this satellite business and… well, either a big explanatory scene didn’t make it into the final cut, or Crowe has a lot of faith in his audience. Because the film rests so much of its story on this satellite and its purpose- these characters find themselves distraught and heartbroken over whatever Brian’s involvement with the satellite is. And… I don’t get any of it. None of it. None. He goes all in on these satellites, but never takes the time to explain the significance of them, so by the time we reach the film’s climax, what should be a thrilling moment or something feels… well, I actually don’t know what we’re supposed to be feeling.
So you have half of a movie devoted to the satellite. The other half is devoted to the romance- Brian’s on-and-off flirtation with Ng (yes yes, the very Hawaiian Emma Stone) and Tracy. Stone is adorable, but here she’s just an over-the-top dork. It’s not a bad performance, but the character is so thin, that’s the only note the material lets her play. As for the Tracy storyline, not that I actually care about any of this, but what are we supposed to make of this? She’s a happily married woman, and yet one of the pictures she keeps is of her and Brian, and it’s not like Brian has been cut out of the picture; he’s been folded behind it, as if she’s still clinging onto her long lost love. Also, her daughter is actually Brian’s, and what would be an emotional final moment mostly rings false because not only do we not care, but also we don’t really root for this guy anyways.
So, in news that will surprise nobody, Aloha is still a hot mess six years later. Something went very wrong here, but also perhaps this was a film that was doomed from the start. Something about this material had to have attracted such star power, but there is no shred of it in the final product. Yet I find the film to be an interesting mess, in the vein of something like Richard Kelly’s disastrous 2006 Cannes debacle Southland Tales. That film, like this one, gathered a large cast of talent and stranded them with… something, to do, even if nobody knew what they were doing. Perhaps in the four years between Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo and this, he took on a great fascination with satellites and tried to incorporate them into his romantic comedy, no matter what cost. Well, the cost was this debacle, which is pretty terribly written and directed. But hey, at least the cast got a trip to Hawaii out of it. It probably didn’t phase Stone though, since she’s a native of the land.
Note: I watched this free on IMDb TV, which comes included with advertisements. To be frank, the film is such a mess that the advertisements kind of fit right in with the rest of the movie.