Bradley, Emma, and Rachel in Aloha
Felipe Ramales/ Splash News, Raymond Hall/ Ray Tamarra/ Getty Images
(Lainey: given the way it’s performing and that dinosaurs are taking over, this might be your last chance to see Aloha... if you want to.)
One of the threads that emerged last year during the Sony Hack was that the Hawaiian-set “Untitled Cameron Crowe” project was a disaster, testing so poorly with audiences that then-studio head Amy Pascal was ready to write it off. The movie, eventually titled Aloha, has been released and we can now judge whether or not the movie is as bad as Pascal thought. Answer: Not really. Aloha isn’t terrible, it’s just not very good. It’s a middling movie from a director in a downward spiral, and while this does nothing to pull Crowe out of his funk, it’s certainly not as awful as Elizabethtown. There are elements of Aloha that are actually quite good, but ultimately it’s two mismatched movies smashed together and is too messy to succeed.
Aloha centers on Brian (Bradley Cooper), a former pilot turned military contractor, who, after a vaguely defined f*ck up in Afghanistan, is sent to Hawaii by his billionaire boss to negotiate with the native Hawaiians to use some land for a satellite launch site. That’s one movie. The other movie shoved messily into Aloha is the one about Brian reconnecting with an old flame, Tracy (Rachel McAdams) and discovering some truths about their former relationship even as he forges a new relationship with a new woman, Allison (Emma Stone). Crowe tries to tie ideas about space exploration and hope for the future with flight and optimism, but he can’t wrangle the military details like he was able to integrate sports into Jerry Maguire. The romantic comedy about burnt out Brian and the super chipper Allison isn’t half bad, but the espionage thriller about mysterious satellites is completely confounding.
The mismanaged narrative isn’t Aloha’s biggest problem, though. No, that would be Emma Stone, who is wildly miscast. It’s not just that she’s playing a part-native Hawaiian named Ng and she in no way looks like either of those character descriptions, it’s also that she is not for one second believable as an Air Force officer. It’s a double-whammy bad casting call, and for the first time the presence of Emma Stone actively took me out of the movie. It’s not all on her, though. Acting-wise, she’s serviceable, but her characterization is so bad it’s distracting.
Crowe, who also wrote the movie, acts like “is in the military” is the sum total of her character, but Stone does not convincingly represent what “is in the military” means. Compare this to Diane Court in Say Anything, who is introduced as the class valedictorian, and over the course of the movie we see the ambition, drive, and pressure that led her to that achievement, thus revealing the person behind the biographical data point. There’s no such reveal for Allison, though. She’s just the embodiment of Brian’s lost idealism, a manic pixie dream girl in a flight suit. McAdams fares better as Tracy, but so much of the movie is Brian and Allison’s relationship that it’s frustrating that Allison is little more than a funhouse mirror reflection of Brian.
Aloha is a mess, but not an irredeemable one. Its saving grace is Crowe’s dialogue, which is bouncy enough that the very talented cast has something to chew on. There are some really nice exchanges between characters, especially between Brian and Tracy, and everyone is capable enough to skate over the occasional clunky line. It’s just too bad Stone is so out of place, because in general she’s well suited to Crowe’s brand of romantic idealism. And it’s too bad that Crowe shoe-horned in that mystifying satellite plot because the movie was doing fine as a romantic dramedy about missed opportunities and second chances. I don’t recommend Aloha. Just revisit Say Anything instead. It totally holds up.