Movie Review: “Aloha”

Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, Danny McBride
Cameron Crowe

Thus far, optimism has reigned supreme in this summer of moviegoing. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was about finding hope and redemption in a wasteland, “Tomorrowland” championed positivity, and now the king of sincerity himself, Cameron Crowe, has given us “Aloha.” The director’s latest effort is a Cameron Crowe film through and through – a heartfelt, funny and honest, albeit a little messy, romantic comedy.

Like most of Crowe’s protagonists, Brian Gilchrist (Bradley Cooper) isn’t the man he once was, a washed-up defense contractor looking for a comeback. His boss, famed billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), is planning on launching a satellite out of Hawaii, and it’s Brian’s job to make sure the launch goes according to plan. Professionally and personally, the cynical Brian runs into more problems than he expected. For starters, his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) is now married to John ‘Woody’ Woodside (John Krasinski) and has two kids. Old feelings for Tracy arise when Gilchrist reunites with her, in addition to new ones for his babysitter/partner, Allison Ng (Emma Stone), an ambitious pilot who sees Brian for the man he used to be and the man he could become.

There’s actually more to “Aloha” than that plot description. There are a lot of moving pieces in Crowe’s script, and it takes time for them to become a cohesive unit. The details of Brian’s mission are a tad hazy at first, and his relationship with Allison is initially rushed, as she falls for him a little too quickly. But by the time the second act rolls around, Crowe and the cast are mostly smooth sailing.

The writer/director behind “Almost Famous,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Vanilla Sky” almost always subverts romantic comedy tropes or makes them feel fresh and honest again, and “Aloha” presents some clichéd scenarios in a much-needed new light. Love triangles are generally played for laughs or made easy and deflated of all true conflict in movies, which is almost nothing like real life. Here, Crowe completely humanizes the man Tracy has married, making him arguably more empathetic and likable than the protagonist. In most cases, Woody would either be written as obnoxious or as a cheater, but in “Aloha,” he’s a good but flawed man.

On top of that breath of fresh air, neither Tracy nor Allison is defined by their relationship with Brian. They both have their own struggles unrelated to him. He plays a part in their conflicts, of course, but they’re not purely reactionary roles; they have their own lives. When it comes to the “love triangle” between them, admittedly a guy torn between women that look like Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone reads as flat drama on paper, but it’s nothing of the sort in execution.

Crowe never makes it feel like Brian is weighing his options, nor is the truth ever sugarcoated. We see Tracy and Brian flirt with each other, and Crowe makes it more uncomfortable than endearing. Both the women in Brian life represent a past and a future, which the character struggles with at the start of the film, still yet to realize that he has to become a new man rather than the man he used to be.

There’s plenty of charm in the relationship between Allison and Brian. Their banter is clever and makes their attraction to each other all the more believable. Cooper and Stone are immensely likable actors, and they both have an easygoing charisma that serves Crowe’s writing well. But casting has always been one of Crowe’s strong suits. Supporting players Danny McBride, Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin help liven the film up even more, and just like “Elizabethtown,” where Baldwin gives a tremendous speech about failure, he comes in and out of this movie like a lightning bolt. As for Krasinski, he really shines in his role. Woody’s problem is that he doesn’t communicate well, meaning Krasinki has to give an internalized performance, which he does with humor and warmth. His communication problem also leads to the funniest scene in the movie.

“Aloha” may be Cameron Crowe’s most Billy Wilder-esque film to date. Crowe is very much inspired by the legendary filmmaker, and it often shows in his work. There’s a scene in the movie where Brian discusses hitting rock bottom, and it’s a clear tip of the hat to a very troubling moment from “The Apartment,” another movie that blended humor, pathos and a surprising amount of brutal honesty. Crowe achieves that tricky mix of tones with “Aloha.” Most of the film’s problems are ultimately overshadowed by Crowe’s control of tone, the performances and a surprising and ultimately moving ending.