2015 / Director. Cameron Crowe.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Almost all of Cameron Crowe's films have the same effect on me. I spend most of the duration underwhelmed and thinking that he is an overrated filmmaker, and then he concludes with a third act that carries it home and has me reconsidering everything that I had just thought. ALOHA is another typical example.
Bradley Cooper plays a military contractor who returns to his home state of Hawaii to head up liaisons with the traditional land owners for a multi billion dollar satellite communications facility. Upon return he finds himself swept up in nostalgia with his ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) and falling for fighter pilot (Emma Stone) who feels spiritually connected to her island home. Add in a tumultuous relationship with his commanding officers (Alec Baldwin & Danny McBride) and a ruthless billionaire Bill Murray) and the scene is set for an emotionally complicated homecoming.
The initial strength of the film is in its casting. All of the integral players are very good and Bradley Cooper exudes charisma on screen. He has been paired wonderfully with Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone, and although I have a very low tolerance for Stone, her performance won me over. Bill Murray is a nice addition to the cast as the eccentric and untrustworthy billionaire father figure to Cooper's character. While Murray has very little time on screen with very little to work with, he milks every moment and provides the film some of its most memorable scenes.
The first act of the film feels very odd and disjointed as we are introduced to these characters in a hasty and assertive way, with very little to latch onto. There are several obvious continuity blunders that had me scratching my head, and the structure of the narrative is clunky and sketchy... and probably a little too presumptuous. The audience is expected to catch up to speed with very little backstory, and the onus is on the viewer to have a pre-established understanding of Hawaiian culture and spirituality. Cameron Crowe attempts to explore indigenous issues and presents an ongoing spiritual context that had me spending most of the running time wondering if such themes were better handled by a filmmaker with an actual heritage. I am also conflicted about the title, ALOHA. It seems patronising in its simplicity.
Fortunately the many shortcomings of ALOHA are compensated with likeable characters, good performances and a genuinely excellent finale. In true Crowe form the soundtrack is fantastic and he manages to milk one particular scene for all its worth with the help of 'Everybody Wants To Rule the World' and 'I Can't Go For That'. It gives the film its standout moment and reaffirms what a true genius Billy Murray is. It also reminds us that Cameron Crowe's strength lies in exploiting retrosentric pop-culture and manipulating the audience with nostalgia. He does it well.
I probably shouldn't have enjoyed ALOHA as much as I did, but at the end of the day I am a sucker for kitsch and melodrama. The film does struggle to find its rhythm but eventually comes together in the end. It also finishes with a film-stealing performance by one of the unlikeliest of characters. Oi, Cameron Crowe.... "Why, you!!!!" [shakes fist].