In Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, his latest romantic jaunt full of pregnant, sentimental stares and buried emotions between his characters, the location is Hawaii and the good looking stand-in is Bradley Cooper. Returning home after several years of physical and mental damage caused by contractor work in the Middle East, there’s no grand mission statements a la Jerry Maguire (1996), but he’s plenty remorseful for leaving old girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) and the beautiful, mythic territory of the renowned island.
Not only does he go about trying to amend for past mistakes, but morph into a better person, which is the theme writer-director Crowe has been exploring for two decades now with varying degrees of success. It worked beautifully in Almost Famous (2000), but since then, Crowe’s films have succumbed to treacle more often than truth. Sadly, Aloha veers much closer to this zone of self indulgence, sparked by a script that gives everyone such eloquent words of wisdom that it alienates each and every character as a specifically designed elicitor-of-audience-emotions. Take for example the opening voice-over of Cooper, who describes himself as a “cat waiting for scraps outside a take out Chinese restaurant.” It’s this type of strained seriousness that sinks Aloha from the very beginning.
Once back on Hawaiian land due to his recent gig with billionaire entrepreneur Carson Welch (Bill Murray) and because of his excellent track record with NASA and military flying operations, Brian Gilcrest (Cooper) immediately runs into old girlfriend Tracy (McAdams), now happily married (to John Krasinski) with two precocious children. His military chaperon, Captain Ng (Emma Stone) is a ball of energy who shares Gilcrest’s fading appreciation of all thing space and sky related. Of course, there’s an attraction that develops between them as well and Gilcrest finds himself trapped between his ambivalent feelings for Tracy and new found attractions to Ng…. not surprisingly, both of them witty, waif-like blondes that embody the sweet specter of that ‘somegirl’ who’s haunted all of Crowe’s films since Kate Hudson’s radiance in Almost Famous.
Bracketed around the carousel of shifting emotions and tenuous embraces is a soundtrack full of Crowe’s sharp interest in music (and scored by Sigur Ros’ lead man Jonsi), replete with Rolling Stones, The Who and my own personal (underrated) favorite The Blue Nile, which is used to powerful effect in a key final scene. It’s one of the few moments in Aloha that coalesces nicely.
All the ingredients are there for auteur Crowe to deliver a knockout adult drama, but the pieces never come together in any real, honest manner besides scattershot moments. Aloha mostly feels like a fabrication of monologues and snatches of dialogue that sound smarter on paper than delivered within flesh and blood conversations. And when one scene involves subtitles to deliver the silent, bro-hood moment between Cooper and Krasinski, one yearns for the outrageously simple but effective image of John Cusack in Say Anything holding a boombox up in the air. It may be an iconic (and manufactured) moment, but one that works because the cult of Crowe hadn’t yet been defined and endlessly repeated. Crowe has genuine things to say about the messy and intricate crashes between people who love one another, but they just can’t be found in Aloha.