By Megan Bianco
Why are so many respected filmmakers releasing such embarrassing flops lately? Creative blocks have struck Hollywood in a rather abrupt way this year, and generated much ire among film fans. Starting with Ridley Scott’s “Exodus“ last December, then Michael Mann’s “Blackhat,” followed by the Cannes bomb “Sea of Trees“ by Gus van Sant and Peter Bogdanovich’s “She’s Funny That Way“ in August. Not exempt is San Diego native Cameron Crowe’s current release “Aloha.” Everything from the blasé title, to the confusing plot, to the horrible editing unfortunately lead the Hawaiian romcom to become one of the worst movies of 2015.
We’re supposed to follow a man named Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) who started out interested in space and rocket science, but was forced to switch to military work in Afghanistan when NASA lost its budget. He then gets sent to Hawaii to ‘bless’ a pedestrian gate while making camp on the island’s Air Force base, which is a cover so his billionaire superior Carson Welch (Bill Murray), can open a satellite launch site. Following so far? That’s not even half the plot. There’s also the typical lingering ex-girlfriend trope, here Tracy (Rachel McAdams) is married to Air Force pilot Woody (John Krasinski) and raising their children while trying to stay friendly with Brian. And a new love interest, Cpt. Allison Ng (Emma Stone), is obsessed with Hawaiian heritage, and seems to also be obsessed with the fact that she is one-fourth Hawaiian, one-fourth Chinese and one-half Swedish. Plus a few scenes with random Hawaiian mythology thrown in and a dance number between Murray and Stone.
“Aloha” was one of the films negatively impacted by the Sony e-mail hacks last winter, and it became obvious that from the very beginning, Sony and Crowe didn’t agree on the film at all. Crowe was struggling to get his story across, and the studio heads hated the whole feature from page to screen. Frustration grew from constant re-casting, rewrites, re-shoots, and re-edits Crowe was pushed to do throughout 2008 to 2014. Poor Jay Baruchel was completely cut out of the movie as a result. Even the title “Aloha” was chosen six months before its release, after spending two years as “Deep Tiki” and then another three years as ‘untitled Cameron Crowe project.’ Knowing this Hollywood drama before viewing the film, the rushed and forced mixing and editing in the final cut becomes very apparent and clunky. There’s clearly full subplots missing and some obvious mistakes during post-production.
Another strange and awkwardly distracting feature is how all the actual native Hawaiians in the film appear, including Stone’s Ng. While it’s possible for someone mixed to appear white passingly, the trait just looks like an excuse to cast a blonde actress, and Stone having to remind the audience just puts salt on the wound. Even more ironic is a supporting character who not only criticizes white Americans for taking advantage of the state, but also wears a shirt that says ‘Hawaiian by blood, American by force’ to ram the point home.
All of the film’s unfortunate issues aside, there are three things that work: the soundtrack, the cinematography and Emma’s performance. Like all Crowe’s films no matter the quality, you can always count on great music, and in Aloha it’s a score by Jónsi & Alex, along with songs from Beck, the Who, Fleetwood Mac, Tears for Fears and Hall & Oates. The award-winning cinematographer of “The Motorcycle Diaries“ and “Into the Wild“ fame makes Hawaii look beautiful, even with plot and character flaws. Putting the messy characteristics aside (much like she already did one year ago in Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight“), Stone does well with the mediocre material she’s given and aesthetically fits right in with previous Crowe ingénues Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bridget Fonda, Renée Zellweger and Kate Hudson.
As someone who’s been an admiring fan of Crowe for almost a decade and has generally enjoyed all of his films (even “Elizabethtown“), it’s always sad to see a favorite stoop so low and so drastically. Next on his resume is going to be a retro cable series called “Roadies” in the upcoming year, and hopefully the new medium can find him a new inspiration and outlook.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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