ALOHA: Starring Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin. Directed by Cameron Crowe. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language) 105 minutes
By John McCarthy
HAWAII’S allure as a tropical paradise derives from its pristine beaches, fragrant flora, colourful mythology and air of laid-back hospitality. But the islands are also defined by their history as one of America’s most strategic military outposts.
At the beginning of Aloha, writer-director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) references the uneasy co-existence of these two aspects of the 50th state of the United States of America using a montage in which images worthy of a tourism bureau advertisement alternate with footage of missiles and other martial assets being deployed.
What follows is a half-baked yet charming romantic comedy that cautions against privatising the nation’s defences, weaponising space and trampling on the rights of indigenous peoples.
As a romantic comedy should, Aloha also celebrates the virtues of opening oneself up to others in pursuit of truly meaningful relationships.
This mixture – one part screwball comedy, one part earnest tale of redemption through love, and one part satire about the corrupting influence of money within the military-industrial complex – is highly unstable.
Yet despite its flimsy plot structure and conflicting tones, Aloha is elevated by its poignant idealism and terrific cast.
Bradley Cooper stars as Brian Gilcrest, a former serviceman turned military contractor with a chequered personal and professional past.
After being seriously injured while working in Afghanistan, he returns to the Aloha State where he was once stationed and angles to get his career back on track.
His ex-girlfriend, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), lives on Honolulu’s Joint Base Pearl Harbour-Hickam with her husband, a C-17 pilot, and their two children. The marriage is wobbly and, evidently, Tracy still pines for Brian 13 years after their break-up.
Emma Stone plays Brian’s eager Air Force liaison, Captain Allison Ng. After they fall in love, he questions the motives of his boss, billionaire industrialist Carson Welch (Bill Murray).
Welch, who is funding a mysterious space project for the US Government, has instructed Brian to convince the leader of Hawaii’s independence movement, Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele (playing himself; he’s a real-life descendant of King Kamehameha) to bless the construction of a facility to be built on land native Hawaiians consider sacred.
With his trademark use of rock’n’roll music and a talent for penning witty dialogue, Crowe aims for a loose, improvisational feel – aided, unfortunately, by some dizzying hand-held cinematography.
This off-the-cuff vibe cannot hide the fact he is firmly in control and that the movie has a manufactured quality.
Crowe never loses sight of something fundamental about cinema, namely, the magic that occurs when performers establish palpable connections with one another and, consequently, with the audience.
Aloha is a reminder that the primary draw of movies is non-verbal.
Language, plot and ideas are secondary means of expression; looks, moods and feelings come first.
There’s abundant chemistry between Cooper and his two female co-stars.
Stone’s performance is more of a revelation. Simultaneously luminous and awkward, she exhibits a real flair for madcap comedy.
Brian also forms a sensitive bond with a third female character, Tracy’s 13-year-old daughter, Grace (Danielle Rose Russell).
And the theme concerning the superfluity of verbal communication is made explicit in an hilarious scene between Brian and Tracy’s laconic husband, Woody (John Krasinski).
This is not to suggest movies boil down to star power and actors’ charisma, or that a successful romantic comedy requires beautiful people ogling one another.
There must be something substantial beneath the surface to trigger sparks.
In effect, Aloha argues that while the connection between man and nature may be sacred, as the native Hawaiians believe, a loving relationship between two individuals is more spiritual and more satisfying.
The film contains an instance of off-camera non-marital relations between a man and a woman, one use of rough language, several crude phrases, and some sexual innuendo.
John McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.