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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Aloha (non-spoiler)


There should be no pleasure in tearing down the work of a mighty and sincere aesthetic warrior. Cameron Crowe is one such warrior.

I don’t know what is going on with him. It would be easy, if lazy, to compare him to other greats who disintegrated before our eyes, their personal visions somehow muddled by too much success, too much money, too many years. But Aloha doesn’t feel like that to me. It feels like something that has ambition to spare, but an utter inability to tie all of its disparate strand together.

This is a movie about—and these are not spoilers in any functional way—the madness of billionaires, the callous disregard of the U.S. military for culture and its own claimed principles, the desperation of a man seeking the feeling of firm ground under his feet, the agony of a lost great love, the power of being central to putting back together the pieces for someone you love, true love of culture, the draw of women to fixing broken men with very blue eyes, being overwhelmed by technology, and more.

That’s a lot.

And Cameron Crowe has bitten off more than he should have been able to chew before… and made it work. I don’t think he has ever tried to play to so many fields and that may be at the heart of his undoing here. I defy anyone to offer an accurate log line, not for the entire film, but for any one of its basic three sections: Romance, Military-Industrial Complex, Love of Culture. I’m not exaggerating. If you see Aloha, try to explain any segment of it clearly in less than 50 words. Then try 100 words. And then, realize you are forgetting some strand of an idea that ended up changing the story in some way.

Almost Famous – Precocious teen goes down the rabbit hole into the world of Rolling Stone-Creem era rock-n-roll and comes of age in the wildest way possible. [edit]

Jerry Maguire – Sports agent is torn down by his own hubris and has to re-build, learning what it really is to be a man from the most unexpected tutors.

Singles – An advent calendar of life in your 20s, trying to get loved and laid while finding yourself, set to a rocking soundtrack.

Say Anything – Finding your way to being a man when it turns out that your fantasy about women is more powerful and more challenging than you ever imagined.

Add a lot of cool bangles to the mix, but Cameron Crowe has always has a pretty clear notion of where a story is going.

In Elizabethtown, this formula just failed to achieve its expected greatness. And since then, Crowe seems to be flailing, looking for an answer to questions he answered so clearly in the decades past.

His last two films, We Bought A Zoo and Aloha, have had their moments. Actors want to work with him. And they seem to have had a great time on both sets. But what does Cameron Crowe at 50 have to say? Was Jerry Maguire the last time Crowe will write a movie about people he knows? Because that seems to have been his magic.

I feel a strong connection between Crowe and James L. Brooks, who has made some of my favorite and least favorite films. Brooks got into deep artistic trouble when he started writing too much about his own surroundings in Spanglish. It’s almost as though Crowe saw that and decided to tack to the opposite side. He bought a zoo. Wait. He didn’t buy a zoo. He doesn’t have a dead wife. (And dare I say it—I dare, I dare!—Aline Brosh McKenna, Crowe’s co-writer on Zoo and one of the busiest women screenwriters in the business, has written exactly one decent produced screenplay in her entire career… Prada… done. Everything else has been stunningly mediocre or worse. I am all for women writers getting produced, but this one is taking up the place of two—as a number of male writers do—and she is not making things better for women writers overall.)

And now, Crowe is taking on the military-industrial complex in a very Crowe-ian way, as part of an ambitious love triangle rom-com… but what the hell does he know about this story? He must love Hawaii. He must be worried about the infringement on its culture. He must be worried about the mad billionaires, each of whom needs to spread their ego like a disease.

But pick ONE, man.

Dr. Strangelove with a romantic side. The Descendants with… well, The Descendants… you got beat there. Wall Street in Maui. Each of these could be a great Cameron Crowe movie. All three make for a stew that doesn’t taste right.

And let me offer… this film feels like it was tampered with in a big way. One thing I have never felt from Crowe before is manic energy… not the characters… the writer/director. The first 20 minutes of this film is cut like a Road Runner cartoon. Nothing breathes. And my conjecture – which is all I have right now – is that the studio was unhappy with his first cut and wanted it “louder, faster, funnier.”

The problem is, as it is cut now, the primary actors are all off on their own boats, playing their roles in completely different speeds. The magnificent Emma Stone is doing the chicken with her head cut off… a Betty Hutton character. But the very earnest and smart Bradley Cooper is playing it so close to the vest that he doesn’t know what cards he has, but in permanent smirk or shock. And the career-dented but brilliant Rachel McAdams, who is the one who comes out with the closest thing to a consistently honest co-lead performance, is mother earth pulling off a sexy short skirt, which isn’t a comedy performance at all.

Of the supporting group, the most endearing is John Krasinski, who is a perfect Crowe creation in the midst of the great mess, and Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, who is apparently the real thing and never feels like less than the real thing. But what the hell is going on with can’t-miss Bill Murray and can’t-miss Alec Baldwin in this movie? They both miss. By miles. I find it impossible to believe that Crowe didn’t have a reason for those characters to be there… but the movie makes them feel like they are improvising cameos, one told to play it low-key but with a big stick and the other to play it loud but with a tiny penis.

It may not be to Amy Pascal’s taste, but there has got to be a 2:20 cut of this film that at least makes sense. Crowe is not senile or incompetent. But this version of the film makes him look iffy on both counts.

The one pleasurable surprise is young Danielle Rose Russell, who is going to be a star if she and her parents are careful. She has a kind of magic. Someone is going to put her in some teen franchise and she is going to take off. She gets to have one of the few Crowe-ian moments in the film that works.

More often, we get frustrations like Bill Murray in what feels like it could have been a legendary Crowe moment, without words, contemplating the sky before having his bliss rudely interrupted… which isn’t magic because the set-up is so mangled.

I kind of knew we were not going to recover from the mess when Cooper and Stone go to visit Bumpy and the “I’m here to see The Man… who are you White man?… tell him who it is, he knows me” beat felt incomplete. It’s pretty basic. Do the guards know who he is and mess with him or are they really ready to hurt him and get a genuine surprise when the boss comes and gives him a big hug. It’s an old school movie beat that tells you a lot about the characters without saying anything. They really trust this white guy… or not. There is a history there that is important… or not. They hold the ideas of honor as true as their boss does… or not. Instead, we get… who knows? And that is problem.

And I won’t even get started on the mess of the third act… the lack of clarity about the various business relationships… motives aside from covering your own ass… etc, etc, etc.

The biggest “tell” in the picture to me was Emma Stone, finally having an emotionally honest moment with Cooper’s character and hitting it square out of the park. That is Cameron Crowe. Except, the cartoon character she was playing until then became a bit of a lie when we finally saw the adult woman show up. That adult woman was who men want to be with and women want to be.

There is nothing inherently offensive about a guy with a new prospect in love having to deal with an old flame whose embers still burn. That’s the movies. But somehow, this movie doesn’t give Stone’s character her dignity. She is too eager and then too eager in a lower key. And I have to believe that this is in the cutting, as Crowe knows this turf so very well… even in Elizabethtown and We Bought A Zoo.

Please release a Director’s Cut of Aloha. And while you’re at it, the musical cut of I’ll Do Anything remains something I would kill to see.

Moreover, Mr. Crowe, go get your damned hands dirty again. Go make a $5 million comedy in a house. Make it about the ups and downs of marriage or having kids or the disappointment with Hollywood or something you know. And just do it. Actors will still flock to you. Make it cheap enough that you can have true final cut. Make something you love. We will love it too, I bet.

Maybe “Roadies,” your TV project, or Beautiful Boy is the thing I am talking about. Down and dirty.

We need you on that wall, man. You had us at “hello.” We still want to be had. Up to you.

26 Responses to “Review: Aloha (non-spoiler)”

  1. Mostly Lurking says:

    You had me at “hello” and lost me at “Aloha”?

  2. Kevin says:

    Good, honest review.

    I liked it more than you did, maybe because I let go of the messy plot and just enjoyed all the great little moments, the gorgeous setting, the wonderful actors, etc.

    But I like that you’re genuinely trying to engage with the film instead of entering the apparent contest other critics have as to who can tear it apart the most viciously.

  3. Mike says:

    I, too, wonder when we’re going to get the director’s cut. If we do, has the bar been set so low by this version, that critics will hail it, whether it is independently good or not?

  4. EtGuild2 says:

    Since I basically agree with you on this (wonderful writing btw), any thoughts on the embargo here? Out of control. I had to sign papers longer than a wedding license at my screening. Not sure if it’s Sony’s new policy, but good luck getting non-sociopaths in a good mood going into movies pre-release.

    Idiots. The movie isn’t THAT bad, Crowe’s top-lining aside.

    Also, this small-scale sexism accusation shit has to stop. It’s like what’s going on with Jon Chait over at NYMag. Utterly ridiculous and self-serving to critics, and totally out of touch with reality.

  5. Hallick says:

    “I, too, wonder when we’re going to get the director’s cut. If we do, has the bar been set so low by this version, that critics will hail it, whether it is independently good or not?”

    Cameron Crowe is apparently a golden god (or fallen angel) to most film critics, so yeah, a director’s cut version is pretty much guaranteed to be hailed as a treasure in some corners.

    I’m not sure I understand the unkillable love and admiration he still gets today. I don’t mind it since he seems like a genuinely good guy, but Say Anything was 26 years ago, Jerry Maguire was 19 years ago, and Almost Famous came out 15 years ago. Is he just the Peter Bogdanovich of his generation?

  6. Hallick says:

    “Also, this small-scale sexism shit has to stop. It’s like what’s going on with Jon Chait over at NYMag. Utterly ridiculous and self-serving to critics, and totally out of touch with reality.”

    Which small-scale sexism?

  7. EtGuild2 says:

    “And dare I say it—I dare, I dare!”

    Hesitant to say anything because it will hijack the thread with talk (some legit) of being unable to critique female writers/directors without being brought up on bias charges. Poland chose to preempt an issue before he’s accused and which shouldn’t be an issue at all. Everyone is equal. (Yup, barriers to success based on race and sex exist and are problematic but not every criticism should be based around it).

  8. Hallick says:

    Seeing as how she didn’t write anything for “Aloha” (at least as far as IMDb is concerned) why go off on her in an aside like that as if some of the blame for “Aloha” is her fault by association/infection?

  9. movieman says:

    No pre-release screenings for the Cleveland market, so I went to the first public performance last night.
    Walked into the theater expecting a trainwreck (the few reviews that filtered in yesterday afternoon were nearly unanimous in their sheer and utter contempt for the film), but left applauding a fatally flawed but enormously appealing movie that seemed to have the makings of a humanist masterpiece before Sony’s heavy hands intervened.
    I can’t believe that many of the same critics trashing “Aloha” gave “San Andreas” (possibly the worst disaster movie since “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure”) a pat-on-the-back pass.
    One (favorably) recalls the halcyon days of the New Hollywood era while the other symbolizes everything that’s wrong with 21st century Hollywood.

  10. EtGuild2 says:

    Huh? Pascal? She trashed it hardcore in the email leak. And nothing Poland was criticizing was about her. If anything, he (and I) agreed with her leaked critiques. There’s a separate insinuation going around….get up to date Hallick! 😉

  11. EtGuild2 says:

    @movieman, for every self-indulgent fap-fest to A-listers….and that’s what Crowe has become…there are a dozen amazing movies released that express his sentiment better. Just this year….Spring, Something Anything. He’s become consumed by the system he rails against, and the incoherence of ALOHA shows it big time. What are you upset at again dude? Oh, that thing you do.

    But yeah, I agree with you 100% on SAN ANDREAS.

  12. Hallick says:

    “There’s a separate insinuation going around….get up to date Hallick!”

    Up to date? I was talking about the Aline Brosh McKenna smackdown in that other paragraph. That’s the one from which you took the “And dare I say it? I dare, I dare!” quote when I asked which sexism you were referring to. I never gave a thought to Pascal.

  13. J says:

    “Everything else has been stunningly mediocre or worse. I am all for women writers getting produced, but this one is taking up the place of two—as a number of male writers do—and she is not making things better for women writers overall.”

    This whole section about Aline Brosh McKenna is pretty silly. You should know better than to judge writers based on their produced credits. The writers have the least power possible in the process and to say that she’s making things worse for female writers? Really? You’re smarter that that. I expect that from film students, not an experienced film critic and industry analyst.

    If people keep hiring her, and spending millions of dollars on her writing, than clearly people know she’s a talented writer, despite how the movies may turn out. For writers, thankfully, there’s always the work that they did, prior to whatever rewrites were required by cast, director, studio or budget.

    Good scripts get turned into bad movies constantly. It’s little reflection on the writer. Constantly being hired is the best reflection of a writer’s talent.

  14. Hallick says:

    “I am all for women writers getting produced, but this one is taking up the place of two—as a number of male writers do—and she is not making things better for women writers overall.”

    How is she taking up the place of two other women exactly? Over the course of sixteen years she’s had a whopping grand total of EIGHT screenplays that became theatrical films. And other than the notable success of “The Devil Wears Prada” and the notable failure of last year’s “Annie”, none of the others were exactly studio darlings, Oscar bait, or blockbusters-in-the-making (Three To Tango, 27 Dresses, I Don’t Know How She Does It, etc).

    This statement smells a little bit like the whole “if Hollywood wasn’t making crappy Transformers movies they’d be making dozens of $40 Million films for adults instead”. No, they wouldn’t, and two great female screenwriters are not being kept out of the inner sanctum because Brosh McKenna is already there. For what she’s put out she’s really only taking the place of two pedestrian male screenwriters, two pedestrian female screenwriters, or one of each.

  15. Tracker Backer says:

    As usual, people just assume that Crowe’s “director’s cut” must automatically be better than what was released, because the big, bad studio suits never make anything better! If a director’s cut ever is released (which it won’t be–trust me), I think you’d see that the man never had any clue what this movie was about.

  16. EtGuild2 says:

    @Hallick…I gasp in SHOCK! Who knew this outrageousness was being discussed!

    Seriously, you seem determined to troll up a storm on this issue. Not to go all LexG, but you’re just standing out there in the wind, looking to swing your fist when there are actual issues to approach.

  17. Hallick says:

    “Seriously, you seem determined to troll up a storm on this issue. Not to go all LexG, but you’re just standing out there in the wind, looking to swing your fist when there are actual issues to approach.”

    You lost me now, I don’t get it. What kind of storm would I be trolling up anyway? The first thing I posted mainly referred to the cult of Cameron Crowe.

    The second thing was an honest inquiry into what you meant by “small-scale sexism shit has to stop” because I just couldn’t tell what you were referring to in that comment. Your response to that pointed towards David’s bitchslap at the co-screenwriter on “We Bought a Zoo”, so I made the comment that spotlighting her in this review was weird since for all I could tell she had nothing to do with the making of “Aloha”. Then you had the “Huh? Pascal?” response which was confusing since I hadn’t mentioned Pascal or referred to her in my comments here.

    After all that I just went back to looking at David’s critique of Brosh McKenna and tried to put his description of her work in perspective since I wouldn’t really consider her a screenwriting wunderkind with such an average and unremarkable resume.

    I don’t see troll material in anything I’ve written in this thread so far. I don’t see a fist being made to swing in any general direction either. What are you picking up on in my words that’s giving you this impression?

  18. movieman says:

    I don’t considère myself a member of “the cult of Cameron Crowe.”
    Like everyone else, I love his early stuff. But except for “We Bought a Zoo” which I thought was underrated–and “Aloha,” of course–his post-“Almost Famous” oeuvre has left me utterly cold.
    “Vanilla Sky” was simultaneously opaque and heavy-handed (a tough act to pull off), and “Elizabethtown” felt a beat (or two) off in nearly every scene.
    Plus, Orlando Bloom was a disastrous replacement for Ashton Kutcher (who might not have been any better; I guess we’ll never know) as the leading man.

  19. Amblinman says:

    Movieman, you hit it on the head with Bloom in Elizabethtown. I actually think he is the giant, glaring problem with that film. Crowe needed a really strong center to hold the film together and Bloom was flat out awful. No idea about Kutcher either. He had to have been pretty atrocious to have been fired from the movie.

    I am a Crowe fanatic, and I’m perfectly okay with all the sentimentality he shoves down our throats. Sometimes I enjoy a movie being a *movie*. Only exception was Zoo. Hated it because it came across as too synthetic. Like shitty laugh track sitcom level of phoniness.

  20. Jerryishere says:

    Almost Famous took place in the 70s not the sixties.

    And shame on you for the McKenna bashing.
    J said if really well above.
    Unusually naive of you, DP.

  21. movieman says:

    Has Bloom even headlined a movie since “Elizabethtown,” Amblin? (“Kingdom of Heaven” was released six months earlier and also tanked.)
    Maybe there’s an industry-wide perception that he helped derail Crowe’s career.
    Can’t say that I’ve missed Bloom all that much: he was always best in ensemble pieces like the “Rings” and “Pirates” movies anyway.

  22. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I get it: Cameron Crowe is one of the nicest people in the industry, hell, maybe the world. That seems to be what’s behind everyone’s love for him as an auteur, and, let’s face it, most critics all but admit it. He must really give good junket, or something. I actually kind of enjoyed VANILLA SKY and SINGLES, but “kind of enjoyed” is not enough for everyone to be talking about him as if he was the Billy Wilder of the 1990s. I’ll never stop shaking my head at the love SAY ANYTHING still gets. I’ve never gotten over the unjustly celebrated image of John Cusack holding the boom box on his shoulders blaring “In Your Eyes” up at a young woman’s window try to win her love. What, in a more incisive movie, would be a supremely sad image–we can’t sing anymore, we can’t play instruments anymore, all we can do is try to win over people by showing them we have good taste in other people’s art–is venerated as a supremely romantic image. Of course it makes sense, that’s a value only a critic can have. “Go out with me! I can introduce you to great music, movies, books.” It’s pathetic. What WAS romantic was Fredrick Forrest, in ONE FROM THE HEART, singing “You are My Sunshine” to try to win back Teri Garr, even though he couldn’t sing worth a damn. It worked. It won her back. It seemed like a small miracle. She went back to him because he was willing to show how nakedly vulnerable he was. In SAY ANYTHING we have Cusack at his most rebarbative, with a facial expression that says “Love me dammit! I like Peter Gabriel.” Crowe was a zeitgeist director who celebrated the worst of the Bush I/Clinton (I?) era and the zeitgeist has now changed, at least it should have changed. Let’s move on.

  23. brack says:

    If that’s your take away from that scene from “Say Anything…”, then you didn’t understand the characters. Lloyd wasn’t begging Diane to love him. She already did and he was just professing his love to her, with the song they shared when they first made love. She only broke things off because of her dad. Jeez.

  24. leahnz says:

    interesting comment Daniella; my take on the boombox scene (one of those that seems so overhyped and steeped in legend and nostalgia at this point, so that the reality of it – quite brief and matter-of-fact, she doesn’t even bother to get up to look out the window – is far less compelling) is one of almost defiance on the part of lloyd dobler, a ‘this is what we had and you just threw it away’-type moment of sharing his pain.
    i think i remember reading somewhere about the scene being contentious between crowe and cusack at the time, cusack of the opinion that the concept as written – boombox over the head in a grand sappy gesture – was not in keeping with his character and too grovel-y for proud weirdo lloyd, so he ended up doing it differently from how it was initially conceived.
    it is quite a passive-aggressive gesture though really, perhaps it suits the mentality of high school grad-age teens doing inane stuff to express love in that very boombox-y 80’s era, but as far as a creative choice on the part of a film-maker constructing a scene to express heartache and lost love goes, i can see your beef with it.

    (as a younger writer/director i think crowe did have a certain zeitgeist thing going on, a bit of a knack for tapping into the spirit and energy of the era he portrayed on film, but that seems to have largely abandoned him in his more recent work, it’s bizarre. i wonder how much of the mojo attributed to earlier Crowe is due to serendipity with his casts/their performances, who perhaps made his at times somewhat puerile writing and sentimental direction work where lesser talents would have smoothed over the cracks less adeptly; his strongest writing as far as the zeitgeist goes is perhaps ‘fast times’, which heckerling directed rather brilliantly)

  25. brack says:

    Wow, very cynical comments from the ladies in this blog posting. Diane doesn’t look out the window because she is fighting her feelings, to go out to Lloyd, because of her father. She knows it’s Lloyd out there, obviously. We don’t need a shot of her looking out the window, and then ignoring him. That would have been cruel and completely out of character.

  26. Christian says:

    Really love and respect Crowe as a writer and ALMOST FAMOUS (director’s cut) is just so precious. I can’t say a bad word about him but I’ve never cared for SAY ANYTHING and that boombox scene is one of the reasons why. I can’t even remember the movie around that moment. Cusack is a kickboxer or something? I remember literally not caring about anything that happened. The scene is iconic but for reasons more appealing to women than me. I can see Cusack fighting Crowe on that. I bet he’s happy he lost the battle.

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