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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
is no more to do
never really changed anything
don't like people in movies who flirt with married people or
people who flirt
satellite makes no sense
gate makes no sense
never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous
we al [sic] know it
don't care how much I love the director and the actors
much as I want movies
is way worse
least the marketing departments at both studios have something to
looks big and glossy
have this movie in for a lot of dough and we better look at that
[producer Rudin] didn't once go to the set
help us in the editing room
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.