“Aloha” is the most recent film from the director of (in this critic’s humble opinion) what may be Tom Cruise’s best on-screen performance—“Jerry Maguire,” if you need reminding. It is inaccurate to classify “Jerry Maguire” (or many of Crowe’s films) as romantic comedies, even though that’s the easiest category. The light, heartfelt moments that define his writing aren’t always comedic (though they can be), and they aren’t always romantic (though they often are). They occupy a space of Hallmark-y feel-good sentiment that may actually be distinct to Crowe and any film adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel. You don’t go to a Cameron Crowe film to laugh; you go to insert yourself into someone’s (often a man’s) atypically weighty life dilemma, watching along the way as he gains perspective on love, life, and the importance of the quietude of fulfilling relationships.
Let me say right off that examining these relationships is a valuable contribution to American cinema, even if nearly every time Crowe wraps things up with a nice bow (“Vanilla Sky” is the exception to most of these rules). Few writer/directors these days (outside of Crowe, Richard Linklater, and Judd Apatow, the most recently anointed master of probing the complexity of adult relationships) are as adept, or even willing, to engage in the conversation of how couples interact, how they should interact, what they dwell on in open and in secret, and exactly what the ultimate significance is of true (or thin, but consequential) human bonds. By this criteria, “Jerry Maguire” is a masterpiece of directing four fully-realized characters and their respective relationship dynamics (Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., Renée Zellweger, and Bonnie Hunt). Perhaps unfairly, I know Crowe first by “Jerry Maguire,” so it is my bellwether for his films. The film has undeniable enduring effect in our culture, mostly through its catchphrases “Show me the money!”, “Help me help you,” and, most commonly, “You complete me.”
“Aloha” is a film of Cameron Crowe moments that also happens to be directed by Cameron Crowe. This film happens to be such a miss-hit within his filmography that, frankly, it’s hard to imagine that it has come from his mind and pen. There is a semblance of a plot, but mostly these actors saunter to and fro from each other’s dwellings, professional assignments, and social engagements and have the sort of prose-y conversations they need to for the audience to have the slightest feeling that they are learning and evolving. To mention and set aside, Bradley Cooper plays a defense contractor in the back pocket of a private industry rocket-launching mogul (a poorly utilized Bill Murray) who contracts with the military to conduct stratospheric satellite launches. Cooper is accompanied throughout the film by an all-too-excited Emma Stone, a military wing-woman overseeing his brief stay in Hawaii during a launch, in the most contrived role of the film (though also the most interesting). Rachel McAdams appears as Cooper’s ex-girlfriend reunited after 13 years and John Krasinski her husband who has good reason to suspect shenanigans upon Cooper’s return (Krasinski in an embarrassingly bad role).
The screenplay does pose some interesting thoughts, though they remain for the most part unrequited. At one point, McAdams’s son asks Cooper “Why would anyone break up with my mom?”, which Cooper disappointingly deflects. At another point, Cooper suggests to Stone that simply having fun is the best thing in life, to which she offers “purpose” as a counterpoint, that again disappointingly, is not addressed any deeper. There’s a Woody Allen-like way that big, meaningful concepts are dangled in “Aloha” but just end up swaying neglected for the duration of the film. For such a tactic to be effective, there needs to be enough narrative heft or some well-defined theses to serve as cornerstones for all those concepts to connect back to. In “Aloha,” there are not.
“Aloha” seems to be most interested in the tit-for-tat between Cooper and Stone, secondarily in whatever are the remnants of his decade plus-old romance with McAdams, and finally in the jumble of plot points with Murray and Krasinski. There are not insignificant issues here, just unorganized. Indeed, it’s hard to recall a more absurd subtlety in a film as Murray’s character, a manipulative and conniving billionaire whose true plan with his rocket launch, revealed towards the end of the film, would appropriately serve as the scheme of a sincere Bond villain. The specter of U.S.-controlled nuclear weapons orbiting the Earth is reduced to a point of mistrust in Cooper and Stone’s budding romance.
The cinematography is a mixture of soft, fuzzy earth tones and pastels with occasional scene-splitting panoramic shots of gorgeous Hawaiian expanses—pretty much how Hawaii has always ever been shot. The camerawork is consistently generic in a home-video way, with a notably disorienting panning-in of Emma Stone’s first appearance, and a notably disorienting wide-out of Krasinski and Adams in an intimate moment. Otherwise, there are plenty of suggestive looks, self-satisfying looks, consternation looks, and revelatory looks that adorn the actors’ faces pretty much on queue. You’ve seen these faces before, and that’s not a problem because that’s what you’re paying for with a Cameron Crowe film, but the problem is that you’ve also learned the lessons behind those faces before.
Cooper, Stone and McAdams are among the most engaging and watchable actors in film today. “Aloha,” feels mostly like an ‘opportunity’ project—an opportunity for these actors to work with a director that’s great even though the script has some loose ends. I’m sure the actors and crew enjoyed a nice couple of months in Hawaii, but the audience for “Aloha” might have asked for a better itinerary.