Cameron Crowe, what went wrong?
The career of the writer who delivered romance classics Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous has all but derailed since its full-steam-ahead trajectory of the late 90s. Judging by the output of the once masterful writer in recent years, Aloha was seemingly doomed long before it arrived on our screens. A passion project for the director, drafts of the script have been floating around since at least 2008 – at various points along the way titled and retitled as Deep Tiki and Volcano Romance. The film made up a sizeable chunk of the dirty laundry aired in last year’s Sony hack, with disgraced Sony chief Amy Pascal having many a scathing word to say about the film's nonsensical script and production drama.
Sadly, there's truth in Pascal’s harsh words. Aloha is a largely incoherent mess, a collection of subplots without a solid overarching narrative. But it's a mess that's somehow still vaguely watchable; there’s glimmers of Crowe's talents to be found, and a good film buried somewhere within, which makes this outing for the once excellent writer all the more disappointing.
Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a disgraced military man – with a minimally explained job description – who returns to Hawaii for a new mission under the employment of Carson Welch (Bill Murray), and is supervised around the island by upbeat young upstart Allison Ng (Emma Stone). Brian also encounters his old flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams), now married with two kids to man of few words Woody (John Krasinski).
The film's biggest talking point has been the casting of Emma Stone as a character with Chinese-Hawaiian heritage, and it's certainly an egregious mistake. While Stone's character is purportedly based in part on a real Chinese-Hawaiian redhead, Crowe doesn't bring nearly enough depth to his characters to make her casting even vaguely appropriate – it’s just another example of blatant Hollywood whitewashing.
Cameron Crowe’s penchant for unorthodox romantic comedy environs and his well-documented trope of unfulfilled men being rescued by women are both out in full force here – with their diminished returns never more evident. Crowe’s script attempts to strike a laid-back tone that it never quite settles into – and the film’s patchy storytelling sees storylines and plot points picked up and discarded on a whim, including the romance between Cooper and Stone’s characters and a bizarre eleventh hour scene that involves Bradley Cooper’s just-revealed computer hacking genius.
But there are hints of Cameron Crowe’s greatest to be found somewhere within Aloha. While the script is miles away from his best, there are small chunks that really work quite well. Cooper and McAdams bring surprising depth to the long-lost romance of their vaguely written characters, and in fact the entire cast really gives the undercooked material their all – her casting may be downright embarrassing, but you can’t deny that Emma Stone’s screen presence is winningly charming.
Aloha is a barely average film - which is a deeply disappointing comment on the work of the Oscar-winning writer. I suppose we’ll have to wait in hope a little longer for Cameron Crowe’s return to form.