So it turns out that casting Emma Stone as a woman who is one-quarter Chinese and one-quarter Hawaiian (“my mother is Swedish” she hastens to inform everyone) was far from the worst bad choice writer-director Cameron Crowe (We Bought a Zoo, Almost Famous) made with Aloha. This mess of an excuse for a romantic dramedy is all about ensuring that walking personal disaster Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper: Joy, Burnt) finds redemption and happiness, and that he is okay with his life and his choices… though why any of us watching should care whether he achieves this is never adequately broached.
A former soldier and military contractor, Brian arrives in Hawaii to attempt to secure the blessing of the Native Hawaiian elder (Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, as himself) for a new venture by his boss, space industrialist Carson Welch (Bill Murray: Rock the Kasbah, The Grand Budapest Hotel), just as Welch is also about to launch a private satellite with a secret payload. The film takes the position that the charmingly quaint and mystical traditions and beliefs of the Hawaiians are the key to saving Brian from his cynicism — he says things like “Nothing [is] sacred, it’s all for sale” — which takes on extra doses of colonialistic offensiveness when the movie implies that Brian, a white man, may be the second coming of a playfully disruptive Hawaiian god, like a Polynesian Loki. (Minus additional bonus points for having not a native character but a small white child who is obsessed with native folklore relate this info.)
Much of Brian’s exotic salvation will come via Stone’s (Birdman, Magic in the Moonlight) Captain Allison Ng, an Air Force fighter pilot who is something of a manic pixie military girl — she says things like “I believe in the sky” — whose bubbly effusiveness will remind Brian that he used to love space, too. On the romantic side of salvation is Brian’s ex, Tracy (Rachel McAdams: Spotlight, Southpaw): their would-be screwball banter starts with her running across the tarmac where Brian has just landed to tell him “I refuse to talk to you,” and goes downhill in all its forced quirkiness and implausible emotion from there.
Turns out Tracy is totally cool with how Brian treated her like dirt all those years ago. Which is necessary, you see, because if there can be said to be any point at all to this rambling portrait of Brian as a jerk, it is that it is the job of women to make men better people by nudging them in the proper direction: emotionally, spiritually, even professionally. Tracy and Allison don’t realize that this their job or that they are doing it, which is probably for the best: this way, they can’t get angry when Brian gets all the credit for things he would not otherwise have done absent their influence.
I get why Brian would see himself as a winner after all this. I’m not sure why anyone else would. There’s certainly nothing romantic in Aloha. There is tons of oblivious masculine self-centeredness… including on Cameron Crowe’s part.