Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Film Review: Aloha

I am not a fan of Cameron Crowe.  I find his movies tend to be overly indulgent and self-satisfied.  With that in mind, I was skeptical of his latest movie which he wrote and directed: Aloha.

But I am happy to say that the movie is a pleasant, if not forgettable, experience.

The movie centers around Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) who is comes to Hawaii to help billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) get Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, the head of the Nation of Hawai'i to bless a building project.  Hawaii also happens to be the home of his long lost sweetheart Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who is married to stoic and silent Air Force pilot John (John Krasinski).  While Brian is on assignment he is saddled with a spunky Air Force captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who moons over him like a school girl's first crush.

The movie is typical Crowe faire:  it is mostly about cynical Brian trying to decide to either cling to the past or look ahead to the future.  The film is beautifully shot against the exotic Hawaiian backdrop, but this is a story with few surprises.

It is also a story with very little tension.  Brian doesn't need to do anything in the first act to win over Allison.  Every look she gives him is a "come hither" look.  Brian resists at first but it doesn't come off as in any way believable.  Yes, he pines for Tracy, but you can feel the distance of time between them.

This is the type of movie that isn't plot driven.  It succeeds or fails on whether you find the characters enjoyable.  And for the most part the answer is yes.  As the film goes on, even if there isn't a lot of depth, the characters grow on you.  You develop an affection for them.  It could be the magical romance of Hawaii, but a lot of it has to go with the incredibly affable cast.  Cooper tones down the violent side he showed in Silver Linings Playbook.  Stone doesn't have a lot to work with from the script, but she makes Allison's enthusiasm contagious and her disappointment heartbreaking.  McAdams always gives off the vibe that she has the goods on you and has a built-in BS meter.  Krasinski is also very funny in his silent role.  In fact, the funniest sequence involves a "conversation" of handshakes and shoulder squeezes.  Murray is wonderfully understated and the rest of the supporting cast, including Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride are fine.

Crowe likes to take you into worlds that are usually unexplored.  In Jerry Maguire he took you into the sports agents business.  In Elizabethtown he showed us the inner workings of the sports shoe industry.  Here, he explores the new world of privatized space exploration.  And this world is actually quite fascinating and the intricate web of politics, military, and business are touched upon but never fully explored.  They are only the backdrop to the love triangle.

As the movie progresses, it becomes more enjoyable.  It is a nice experience to watch a movie whose best parts are not in the first 15 minutes.

Thematically, it does stress the importance of family and children.  Allison consistently refers to the Hawaiian myths and customs about the land and sky, as her character is one quarter Hawaiian.  (Some people have made disparaging comments about casting Stone as a Hawaiian, but as someone of a mixed-racial background I am always uncomfortable when someone is accused of not looking properly ethnic enough).  And while I obviously don't believe the myths, as a Catholic I appreciate the sense of wonder that she brings to nature.  Having just read Pope Francis' Laudato Si, I could feel that appreciation of the created world and its connectedness to something bigger, something that can move and inspire.  (although I could have done without the drinking and fornicating)

Aloha is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination.  But it is a pleasant film experience that will leave you with a nice smile.  And that is no bad thing.

3 out of 5 stars.

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