May 29, 2015

Aloha is relentlessly heartfelt and underrated

Karsten ErzingerRebel Blogger

If there is one thing that is consistent about Cameron Crowe films, it’s the feelings elicited and the experience a viewer has when watching them. Whether we’re discussing Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, or most notably Almost Famous, watching a Cameron Crowe film is a similar experience to a good read. 

It is easy for the viewer to get lost in the story, the relationships and the characters; forgetting entirely that they’re watching a movie. This is not something I experience often when I’m watching a movie, which makes it all the more special when it does occurs.

This brings me to Aloha, Crowe’s latest effort and the unfortunate victim of negative buzz resulting from the Sony email hacks, release date rescheduling and poor reviews. I say unfortunate because I think this movie will be, much like Elizabethtown was, one that is unfairly and disproportionately condemned by critics and overlooked by moviegoers.

Aloha is a relentlessly heartfelt film that, if one is able to set aside their cynicism for, they might just find themselves enjoying. Crowe has described Aloha as a “love letter to Hawaii” and this is very apparent throughout the movie.

The film is gorgeously shot and Hawaii is on full display. Crowe also peppers the dialogue with local mythology, drawing off of it to create parallels and metaphors with the characters and situations unfolding on screen. As is the case with Crowe’s other films, watching Aloha evokes a feeling not unlike relaxing in bed with a good book.

Aloha stars Bradley Cooper as Brian Gilcrest, a cynical military contractor who is struggling with personal and professional baggage as he returns home after a prolonged absence for an important job. Emma Stone portrays his local military liaison with zeal, while Rachel McAdams is his jilted ex who has since found a husband and has two children. Without spoiling too much, the film follows Gilcrest who is stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to reconcile the past and while moving forward in his life.

The film finds success in the areas that Crowe’s past films have also been successful in. He creates and tells very authentic and human stories. His films, even when they are at times objectively contrived, don’t ever feel contrived. Crowe’s strength as a filmmaker is his ability to create authentic and believable characters, who speak like normal people and must navigate situations not far removed from real life (unlike most romantic-comedies).

The scenes between McAdams and Cooper in Aloha are a perfect example of this. They are funny and genuine because of how awkward and aloof they are – as that sort of situation would be in real life. A lesser movie would have taken this story in a different and more contrived direction; Crowe doesn’t and his film is better because of it.

Aloha’s comedic scenes are another example of Crowe’s strength as a filmmaker. The film features a number of laugh out loud moments that are earned because of Crowe’s approach to storytelling and characters. In lesser movies, these types of comedic scenes would be forced and flat, reliant upon cheap one-liners or clichéd slapstick for laughs.

That said, Aloha is certainly not a flawless film. I got the sense that there was a lot of material left on the cutting room floor, as some of the initial character development is stunted and some of the plot is underdeveloped. The beginning of the film is a bit rushed, the ending is contrived, and the pacing is off in places.

However, these flaws don’t kill the movie and simply act to make it a little uneven. While this isn’t Crowe’s best effort, the stellar cast and good natured story certainly won me over in the end. Bottom line: if you can check your cynicism at the door, you should find Aloha to be an endearing, romantic and enjoyable experience. 


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commented 2015-06-01 13:06:43 -0400
You know, Almost Famous was a wonderful film and one that meant a lot to me personally when it came out, but overall I think Cameron Crowe the writer/director auteur is overrated. He’s so very, very baby boomer in the way that he makes nostalgic films that are so feelings-based and ultimately just don’t say anything of much consequence. Coming off of Almost Famous he could’ve had any career he wanted, making whatever he wanted. And what has he done the last 15 years with the opportunity he earned? Jack squat — these little throwaway romantic comedies. I used to look up to him so much when I was a teenager and he’s been such a disappointment ever since.

Sorry, but I think at root Crowe just isn’t that compelling of a writer. He made his transition from Rolling Stone articles to film with the script for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, based off of his nonfiction book of the same name. Both the script and the book really aren’t that great. The movie was a success more for its memorable performances and nudity than for anything special that Crowe discovered. If Fast Times hadn’t been an R-rated teen sex comedy with memorable performances by up-and-coming actors then we probably wouldn’t be talking about Crowe’s film career today. He’s done some good work, but not consistently GREAT work. Luck has been a big factor for him.