Friday, May 29, 2015


By Pamela Zoslov

Cameron Crowe's first feature film in four years, ALOHA, had a rocky time getting to the screen. First conceived way back in 2008, the Hawaii-set military romantic comedy — originally titled Deep Tiki, then Volcano Romance — was repeatedly postponed, finally beginning filming in 2013. Now that it's completed, the film is being criticized for “whitewashing” Hawaii, appropriating Hawaiians' sacred word “Aloha,” and sidelining the Hawaiians' native culture.

The trouble suggests that Crowe, the erstwhile wunderkind who started as a rock journalist at the ripe age of 15 and made his name with semi-autobiographical and zeitgeist-capturing movies including FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, ALMOST FAMOUS, JERRY MAGUIRE and SINGLES, peaked a long time ago. His last outing, an Americanized adaptation of an English memoir, WE BOUGHT A ZOO, was a dud.

Now he's kicked a Crowe's nest of a colonialist controversy. Says the Media Action Network for Asian Americans: Caucasians only make up 30% of the population [of Hawaii], but from watching this film, you’d think they made up 99%. This comes in a long line of films — THE DESCENDANTS, 50 FIRST DATES, BLUE CRUSH, PEARL HARBOR — that uses Hawaii for its exotic backdrop but goes out of its way to exclude the very people who live there. It’s an insult to the diverse culture and fabric of Hawaii.” It seems many filmmakers see the world through a lens of white privilege, then are shocked when people are offended.

To be fair, Crowe's film does pay homage to native Hawaiian people, culture, music, spirituality and history. "You stole our country in 1893," a Hawaiian elder says while negotiating with the military for land that his people once owned. Native culture and people are a sidebar, though, to the main story, a romance involving an American military contractor, his former girlfriend, and an earnest female Air Force pilot.

Bradley Cooper and his blue, blue eyes portray Brian Gilcrest, an erstwhile Air Force weapons expert who, having disgraced himself by succumbing to corruption in Afghanistan, is now a military contractor working for disreputable billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray, at his seediest). Brian has been sent to Honolulu, site of some former triumphs, to arrange a traditional Hawaiian blessing of the “welcome gate” of a new Air Force base. There he encounters his ex-girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), now married to John “Woody” Woodside (John Krasinski), a military officer who travels constantly and almost never speaks. Brian is still not over Tracy, who now has two children and is "more beautiful" than ever.

Brian's liaison in Hawaii is Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a perky blond Air Force pilot, who looks uncommonly fetching in her fitted uniforms. Like Brian, she is enraptured by the wonders of the sky. She also has a deep love of Hawaiian culture, claiming she is, despite her Caucasian appearance, “one-quarter Hawaiian.” Brian is cynical, Allison is idealistic. An electronics wiz, Brian hacks into Allison's cell phone at their motel and listens to her describing him to her mom as a “sad city coyote.” He mocks her mercilessly the next day.

Out of this hostile pas de deux there arises, suddenly and inexplicably, a passionate love. This is a tendency that afflicts Crowe's screenplays — he's so eager is he to get to the “love” part that he omits a credible basis for a couple's relationship. He fast-forwards to the part where a man makes a heartfelt speech to his beloved, or stands outside her window to serenade her with a boombox. “You complete me!” (JERRY MAGUIRE), or “Janet, you rock my world” (SINGLES), or “I'm in for all of it!” (this film). It is also possible, considering all the tinkering done on this movie, that large portions of the plot are actually missing.

Brian's return to the island also disrupts Tracy's relatively placid home life. Her taciturn husband, who won't talk even when Tracy shouts at him the title of an earlier Crowe film (“Say anything!”), is jealous of Brian and briefly moves out of the house, but not before beheading the Santa Claus standing in the front yard he's been so proud of. There's also an issue relating to the couple's daughter, Grace, that I won't spoil but that has little dramatic significance.

Brian and Allison's burgeoning romance is torpedoed by her opposition to Brian's mission, something involving his boss' attempts to build a private nuclear arsenal. The film's climax has Brian foiling his boss' evil plans by exploding a rocket with some rock-and-roll music (seriously, it's Cameron Crowe, so there must be rock music). His sabotage proves his moral worthiness to Major Ng, the round-eyed Anglo aviatrix with the Asian surname. Alec Baldwin shows up for a mildly amusing turn as an enraged general.

It's no surprise that this movie is a mess. It underwent all manner of delays and cuts before attaining its semi-coherent final form. The acting is fine, and there are some nicely written scenes, mostly involving the romantic triangle of Brian, Tracy, and her taciturn husband. But it's still a disaster. Don't take my word for it; read the assessment of former Sony executive Amy Pascal, the who lamented the movie's awfulness in the famous cyber-hacked emails leaked last year. Here is Pascal, in her semi-literate haiku-like poesy:

It's a wrap
There is no more to do
Cameron never really changed anything
People don't like people in movies who flirt with married people or
married people who flirt
The satellite makes no sense
The gate makes no sense
I'm never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous
And we al [sic] know it
I don't care how much I love the director and the actors
It never
Not even once
ever works

As much as I want movies
This is way worse
At least the marketing departments at both studios have something to sell
like looks big and glossy
We have this movie in for a lot of dough and we better look at that
Scott [producer Rudin] didn't once go to the set
Or help us in the editing room
Or fix the script.

"It never/Not even once/ever works." The behind-the-scenes story of the studio scrambling to fix this catastrophe — now there's a movie. 2 out of 4 stars.

1 comment:

  1. I have yet to see a Cameron Crowe movie that hasn’t impacted me on a soul level. Stunningly beautiful.


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