If there were ever a king of Hollywood sentimentality, it would be Jerry Maguire/Almost Famous director Cameron Crowe. Sure, his movies are cornier than an Oklahoma garden, but they generally are full of compelling characters that make us want to take a bite out of his delicious cheese. Here, he perhaps has one of his best opportunities in recent years, not only employing the beautiful sea-side setting of Hawaii, but also one of the strongest casts to find themselves in a romantic comedy in quite some time. With all that said, it becomes even more of a puzzle when wondering exactly what the hell happened in creating this mess.
Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a military contractor with a reputation for failure who arrives in Hawaii to negotiate a land deal with a group of locals, so that billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) has the proper space to launch a weapons heavy satellite into space. Escorting him is Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a gung-ho captain with a spunky spirit and a genuine love for her people, who both clashes and bonds with Brain’s cynical demeanor. Meanwhile, Brain encounters his ex girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who is having trouble communicating with her mostly silent military husband Woody (John Krasinski).
At one point in the film after a sharp exchange, Allison looks at Brian and says the cringeworthy line “thank you for the camaraderie sir.” This highlights the most glaring problem with Aloha, the script, written by Crowe, is so overwritten that it sounds more like a romantic comedy cartoon than anything else. There are so many attempts at witty banter here that sound completely forced, with characters blatantly stating exactly how they feel, and exactly how they are. It dosen’t feel like smart people batting back and forth, but a writer trying to channel his different points of view into different characters. Meanwhile, the movie does such a poor job of explaining exactly what it is that Brian does, and why exactly he’s there that it is very easy to just tune out anything but the human stuff, which becomes a problem later on when the two start to merge. This is especially odd, since Crowe has done such a wonderful job of taking viewers into unconventional jobs in the past. It feels like a vague mush of what it’s supposed to be, almost as if this is the first and only draft of the script that was written.
Fortunately, despite an awful script, we do have great leads who make the best of stock characters. Cooper’s Brian is cynical and smarmy to the point of irritation, but he’s so charismatic that he turns some of Brain’s worst moments into victories through his comedic delivery. It’s not that Brian is a horrible person, he just seems like a slightly toned down version of Cooper’s own Pat from Silver Linings Playbook, but that character had a mental disorder to excuse his odd bluntness. It does help that he has electric chemistry with Stone, who is really the highlight of the film as the adorable Ng. This is the one character who really works (even despite the line mentioned earlier), coming across as genuinely optimistic without seeming overly sugary. The movie is at it’s strongest when it puts Cooper and Stone in a room, and lets them go. At the very least they can power through the bad dialogue. The same cannot exactly be said for McAdams, who is simply given too bland of a character to really do anything with, which mostly goes for the rest of the cast too, especially Murray, who could have been replaced with a stick as far as I’m concerned.
Crowe is a bit of a disaster behind the camera here. Not only does he not really take advantage of his lush setting, mostly having characters pay lip service to the mythology of Hawaii without visually complementing it, but the whole film just looks bland. There’s no flair to the cinematography here, and as such, it might as well have taken place in a metropolitan city for all the difference it makes. As a matter of fact, the only shot that tries to do something different, is a nauseating handheld long-take at the beginning of the film that winds through the heads, shoulders, knees, and toes of the characters as they meet. It’s a real shame, as this could have at the very least been his most beautiful looking piece to date. Aloha is like a beautiful seven day vacation that unexpectedly gets cancelled after one day, leading it’s takers to rush through what they were planning on doing in an attempt to see everything. It’s a rather terribly written film that only manages to be sweet or funny when it’s charismatic leads have the floor. My recommendation, just go to Hawaii yourself if you can, I hear it’s nice this time of year.