Cameron Crowe‘s Aloha is one hot saccharine sweet mess; a jumbled collage of love connections, island spirituality and fluffy, flawed emotional beauty that gave me all the feels, despite its occasionally glaring issues. It’s one of those features where one could curmudgeonly sit around and pick apart at its thatch of problems like a hot-breathed seamstress but you’d ultimately be missing the point. Aloha isn’t guided by substantive reality so much as by a dramaturgical sense of magical realism. Mixed in with the hopeful lyricism of the greatest rom-com ballads and imbued with a dulled barb of cynicism, Aloha is a visceral, passionate triumph even in the bright light of its freewheeling, sometimes nonsensical spirit.
Think of it like a familiar tune, an old 90s hit that while objectively not-the-best still summons pummeling flashes of nostalgia and almost an embarrassing amount of smiles. Aloha rides this tidal wave of feel good vibes into the setting sun, all on the back of beautiful locales. Its “deeper meaning” can be admittedly hollow but with a cast this stunning and wool-pulling, it’s easily forgiveable. In that regard, Aloha is basically the cinematic version of a Third Eye Blind chart topper; poppy, seductive and semi-charmed. You don’t necessarily want other people to know you want to sing along but goddamnit you want to sing along at the top of your lungs.
Last week’s dreadful Tomorrowland told audiences to remain hopeful – by weaving a perpetually-queued theme park ride into a dreadfully ho-hum Disney commercial – while the effervescent spirit of Aloha actually makes you want to remain hopeful. Tomorrowland practically begged you to be the change you want to see, while Aloha actually was that change. Both have their flaws but the storytelling as example-setting that juxtaposes the two is the difference between telling and showing. As any theater person knows, always show, never tell.
As for the plot movement of the film, Aloha is fairly simple in terms of its narrative gait although the emotional beats are perpetually complex. An emotionally weathered defense contractor (Bradley Cooper) returns to Hawaii to oversee the launch of a controversial satellite for an affluent and influential private-sector baron (played delightfully by Bill Murray). While there, he’s babysat by a forcefully peppy Air Force pilot with a two-letter surname (Emma Stone) all while having to confront a long lost girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) who he’s not seen for 13 years.
In many ways, Cooper is back to playing Pat, the mentally unstable anti-hero of David O. Russell’s offensively good Silver Linings Playbook. Under Cameron’s tutelage though, Cooper’s morally questionable Brian Gilcrest suffers from a somewhat unconvincing mix of PDST and self-righteous angst. His edge is biting, his paranoia seemingly out of nowhere. Later pieces fall into place to legitimize his misplaced feeling’s remote. But, in an emotional sense, he works and Cooper is firing on all cylinders in the role.
This statement could be applied to the rest of the cast with carte blanche. Stone is wonderful; eccentric, adorable and angelic – the perfect follow-up to her towering performance as a bitter-to-the-bone Sour Patch Kid in last year’s stunning phenomenon Birdman. McAdams ably taps into what’s kept her working rom-com roles deep into her 30s; her keen ability to be disapproving and doting at once.
Crowe’s supporting cast is, simply put, epic and he squeezes all the juice he can from the acerbic trio of Bill Murray, Danny McBride and Alec Baldwin. John Krasinski is given an unenviable role as the quiet foil for Gilcrest’s advances on his former flame but, for how odd and out-of-nowhere some of his scenes are, they worked for me. You’re willingness to swallow Krasinski’s subtitled silent moments is directly correlated to your overall enjoy of Aloha.
As always, Crowe packs in a killer soundtrack that stuffs Beck and The Tallest Man on Earth alongside Kurt Vile and Hall and Oates. If you find yourself toe-tapping to his righteous omnibus of tunes, you’re half-way to being won over all ready. And like the magical tenor of a high school dance, we’re here to be won over aren’t we?
Like the most shambling of making-it-up-as-we-go dance moves, Aloha isn’t particularly momentous in its hoofing – and carries no intention of being awards’ bait material – but it’s the kind of lovingly made, well-intentioned motion picture that might just get your inner wheels churning. Meaning, it will likely be shat upon; for allowing thematic magnitude to get in the way of cinematic grace, it shall be critically penalized.
Unfortunate though it may be, Aloha is brimming with the melodramatic tinder that stokes the flames of many critics’ red pens. Case and point, a local critic all but pushed his way in front of me leaving the theater, his objectable grimace foreshadowing his intention to tear Crowe’s wishful thinking to shreds. Me? I sat deferential and semi-tearful, allowing Crowe’s gracious tale to waft over me and actually sink into my marrow. Even if there’s a little smog mixed in – a substance infinitely superior to smug – it’s still a breathe of fresh air.