Thursday, June 11, 2015


 1.5 / 5 

Watching Aloha reminded me of the frustrating, uncomfortable experience I had the first time I watched a movie in German without subtitles.  I spoke German relatively well, and assumed that I could get by just fine in a movie.  As I watched, I heard the words and saw the images, but I was crestfallen to discover that the best I could do was piece a few bits of it together and hope it would make sense in the end.

Aloha isn't in German, but it might as well be.  Cameron Crowe's script leaves the audience bewildered.  Are entire scenes missing?  Did this once make sense on paper?  What are Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams doing?  Their characters seem only loosely to relate to one another, as if they're all participating in an acting improv course gone terribly wrong, each one hoping something will happen to rescue them from the disaster they see looming.

There's no internal logic to Aloha, and as one scene moves dangerously to the next, you start looking in the backgrounds for something interesting, something that will distract your attention, focusing on the non-stop music tracks that in theory relate to the emotions of the scenes but that are as random as the action on screen.  Occasionally, Cooper or Stone smiles in close up, or McAdams makes one of her adorable cute-faces, and you realize why they are stars, and you wonder if they are angry at any of their managers or agents for getting them into such a mess.  They're all good actors, and they're gamely reciting the words, unsure (as are we) of exactly what they mean.

Having learned a thing or two back in Frankfurt from my first time watching a movie I didn't understand, I tried to be patient with Aloha.  I tried my hardest to concentrate and think about the things the movie wasn't telling me, like what exactly (other than a "civilian contractor") the job of Cooper's character is, and why the first person he sees in Hawaii is his old flame McAdams, even though she doesn't seem to have an actual job to do.  I squinted hard and tried to see what it was in Stone that Crowe thought looked one-quarter Hawaiian.

(The accusation that the movie "white-washes" Hawaii isn't exactly true; I've met more than a few fair-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed Asian people -- the bigger problem Aloha has is that there's no reason for Stone's character, Capt. Allison Ng, to look Caucasian other than the fact that there are no exotic-looking, big-named actresses to fill the role, which is a different dilemma altogether.)

Occasionally, Bill Murray pops up as a multi-billionaire who is launching a satellite that plays a very big role in the plot, except that most of the satellite stuff seems to have been cut out of the final movie, which means the motivations of the main characters make no sense.  There is talk about Hawaiian folklore and mythology, about the skies being sacred, about the privatization of the aerospace industry, about land disputes between the government and native Hawaiians, about the way men communicate without saying things but women talk about everything.  There's meant to be some tension about Cooper and McAdams being old flames and whether he might steal her away from her husband (John Krasinski), but none of it goes anywhere.

It wasn't until about the 95-minute mark I was able to piece together some of these plot elements.  There's also a big 11th-hour revelation about Cooper's past with McAdams, but even someone as completely clueless about the plot as I was saw that one coming during their first scene together.

I couldn't do it by myself.  I finally resorted to reading a long and elaborate plot "summary" on Wikipedia that I hoped would straighten it all out but instead cleared up absolutely nothing.  Aloha at least has the advantage of a few (not enough, but a few) good shots of Oahu scenery, and a couple of nice song selections on the soundtrack -- plus, what's not to like about seeing Cooper and Stone smile their dazzling smiles on the big screen?  That's about all Aloha has to recommend it, though.  Take the actors and the location out of it, and all that's left is a confused, confusing hodgepodge of nothing much at all.

If I ever watch it again, I might try it in a German dubbed version.  Or maybe in a language that's entirely foreign to me.  With the English subtitles off and Cooper and Stone spouting off in, say, Icelandic, perhaps Aloha would make more sense.

Viewed June 11, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


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