Ever since the Sony hack exposed the email from former co-chair Amy Pascal ripping into Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha” — among her criticisms were “People don’t like people in movies who flirt with married people or married people who flirt” and “It never, not even once, ever works” — we’ve waited to see just how bad (or good?) it might be. The generic trailers offered little insight, not did Sony’s anemic approach to pre-release publicity, and the studio’s decision to embargo reviews until hours before the first public screenings sent a shiver down critics’ spines. Now those reviews have been released (slightly before schedule), and the word is… not good. The primary debate seems to be whether “Aloha” is, in fact, Crowe’s worst movie, or just an utter misfire with enough good moments to remind us why Crowe is worth paying attention to.
To use the musical metaphors of which he is so fond, “Aloha” feels at times like a Cameron Crowe mixtape, throwing stock elements from his filmography — the compromised hero who meets a woman who reminds him what he used to believe in, the garrulous boy obsessed with obscure facts (here, Hawaiian mythology) — into a story that doesn’t need or even want them. It’s as if Crowe’s trying to find a new big idea but can’t wean himself off his old tricks, or, less charitably, that he’s really and truly out of ideas. There are moments that work, including a wordless scene with newcomer Danielle Rose Russell that’s a beauty to behold — when Pascal say it “never once” works, she was off by at least one — but they’re stuck in so much flavorless goo they’re difficult to discern. At least one criticism levied before the movie’s release, that it concentrated solely on white characters without representing native Hawaiians, is derailed now that critics can talk about the whole movie, which in fact hinges on the appropriation of native land by white businessmen, and features Hawaiian activist Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele in a small but significant role. As for how Emma Stone ended up playing a character who’s meant to have Hawaiian and Chinese ancestry mixed in with European blood and whose last name is Ng — we’ll have to wait for an answer on that one.
Update: Now in damage-control mode, Sony has posted the first eight minutes of the movie online. Scroll to the end for the clip.
Reviews of “Aloha”
Andrew Barker, Variety
Unbalanced, unwieldy, and at times nearly unintelligible, “Aloha” is unquestionably Cameron Crowe’s worst film. Paced like a record on the wrong speed, or a Nancy Meyers movie recut by an over-caffeinated Jean-Luc Godard, the film bears all the telltale signs of a poorly executed salvage operation disfigured in the editing bay. But as far as misfires from great American filmmakers go, it’s a fascinating one, less a simple failed Cameron Crowe film than a total deconstruction. Given its rather extraordinary bad pre-release buzz and what is sure to be poor word of mouth from any viewer expecting a new “Jerry Maguire” (or even a new “Elizabethtown”), the film’s commercial prospects look murky. But when faced with a work this fatally misguided, one can only hope it will serve an emetic purpose, a cleansing of the system before Crowe can get his mojo working again.
Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter
If one thing is clear in the deeply confused “Aloha,” it’s Cameron Crowe’s affection for the Hawaiian landscape and native culture. His off-the-tourist-track look at Honolulu abounds with intriguing views of unexpected terrain and offers a glimpse of the indigenous population’s independence movement. All of which suggests a far more compelling movie than the muddled redemption story he’s made. If “Aloha’s” earthbound elements are uneven, its rocket-launch aspects are downright confounding. The movie enters a weird orbit around covert missions and weaponized payloads. In the strangest sequence, Crowe bares his rock ‘n’ roll heart — the passion that made “Almost Famous” such an affecting portrait of fandom — and unleashes a digital collection of pop-culture artifacts as an antidote to the military-industrial complex. Whether as tech coup or crucial turning point for his main character, the scene feels desperately off-key.
Greg Cwik, Indiewire
Cameron Crowe used to make good movies. His tender character studies took life’s fleeting, seemingly insignificant moments and made them profound — not to mention iconic. Let us count the ways: John Cusack hoisting the boombox above his head to the tune of “In Your Eyes”; the flurry of quotable lines from “Jerry Maguire” that have entered pop culture lexicon (“Show me the money,” “You complete me,” “You had me at hello”); the nostalgia for the halcyon days of rock ‘n’ roll in “Almost Famous,” arguably his best work.
Fourteen years later comes the achingly bad “Aloha,” in which Crowe seems to have expunged all evidence of his distinctive filmmaking talents. Equally hobbled by an amateurish script and vaguely defined characters, the movie’s long list of mediocrities have an anonymous quality, as though the director has been completely reborn as a hack.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
In “Aloha’s” few lucid moments, Crowe emphasizes a theme of new versus old. It’s present in the U.S. military’s attempts to co-opt ancient Hawaiian rituals, the frequent dialogue references to “arrivals” and “departures,” and the wide age gap between Cooper (40) and Stone (26). But the thing that really feels old here is Crowe’s story, which he’s now trotted out at least four different times (or maybe five, if you count “…say anything”). After a string of disappointments, his actual failures have finally caught up with his fictional ones; now he’s the good-hearted screwup in desperate need of redemption. Cameron Crowe’s been so consumed by the idea of failure for so long that he’s become the ultimate Cameron Crowe hero. Let’s hope his own return to glory comes just as quickly as it does for his characters.
David Ehrlich, Time Out
The film is cut together with the haphazard feel of a posthumously completed record, its ungainly structure a macrocosm of the awkwardness with which the individual scenes are Frankensteined together into a lumbering monster built from close-ups and music cues. The film’s best moments, however, illustrate why Crowe has earned the benefit of the doubt, and offer fleeting glimpses at the ideas that likely galvanized this project into being. Cooper may be a distractingly manic Gilcrest, devouring every line as though “transparent” and “opaque” were the only two options available to him, but it’s touching to watch him realize that life can be easier to reset than it is to rewind. Stone, meanwhile, continues to work miracles, wrestling the most artificial female lead that Crowe has ever written into a character that eventually comes to resemble a human.
Keith Phipps, The Dissolve
Allison’s idealism stands in stark contrast to Brian’s cynicism. To underscore this, Crowe gives her lines like, “You’re cynical, I get it.” It’s hard to miss. And as she slowly wins his heart and salves his soul, it’s hard not to be reminded of how this dynamic played out in better Crowe films like “Jerry Maguire” and even”Elizabethtown,” which, for all its flaws, never felt half as forced. Cooper and Stone are both winning actors, but the script reduces them to playing types. If nothing else, “Elizabethtown” built a remarkable sequence around an all-night phone conversation that captured the feeling of new love — the bottomless hunger for information, and the way time disappears as two people get to know each other. “Aloha” simply throws its leads together, gives them some banter — some of it memorable, most of it not — and assumes a coherent relationship will take shape.
Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press
There are some lovely moments of humor and depth that do succeed — including a long-lead joke that is used to brilliant effect in one of the final scenes. McAdams and Cooper also have wonderful chemistry and a deeply felt wistfulness over their romantic past. Their scenes together are the film’s rare bright spot and a reminder of Crowe’s unique strength as an idiosyncratic voice. It’s not enough, though. “Aloha” either needed more focus or more time to say what it wanted to say. But perhaps this is the earnest failure Crowe needs to get back in gear.
Michael Sragow, Film Comment
Crowe has become such a sentimental moviemaker that Gilcrest’s redemption plays like a foregone conclusion, and Hawaii, his old stomping ground, plays like Brigadoon. “Aloha” is so dependent on old movie tropes that there’s no suspense to Gilcrest’s romantic quandary. One female is positioned as an emotional casualty from his past (McAdams’s Tracy) and the other as his last gleaming hope for a happy, purposeful future (Stone’s Allison). Crowe’s idol, Billy Wilder, would have turned this movie’s bromides about closure into witticisms—or thrown them away. (It’s telling that Crowe’s favorite Wilder movie is his half-cynical, half-sappy official classic, “The Apartment.”)
Rodrigo Perez, Playlist
“Feel all the feels” is an obnoxious buzz phrase, but it is very apropos to Crowe’s approach. Clearly written to music, “Aloha” must feature over forty soundtrack cuts which are employed as wall to wall woozy sonic wallpaper with no respite. Ironically, Crowe’s would-be ace in the hole — contemporary pop music — is what backfires hardest on the film. So bursting to communicate emotional yearning, “Aloha” strains itself, slathering dreamy or dolorous music cue after music cue on top of each other. Whether its Jonsi’s pillowy score or the fifty-some pop tracks the movie heavily leans on like a crutch (everything from Beck, Fleetwood Mac to Josh Ritter and more traditional Hawaiian music from Genoa Keawe and Cyril Pahinui), if “Aloha” is already caked in reflective melancholy then its atmospheric music is really just more moody syrup on top.
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
Crowe — who gave the world such deathless lines as “You had me at ‘Hello,’'” the man who put the boom box in Lloyd Dobler’s defiantly upstretched arms — spends so much time running away from his roots in “Aloha” that he misses the point of his own movie. Only a filmmaker out to put a permanent stake in the rom-com would take a couple of fizzily attractive movie stars and plop them into a story that hinges, not on a long-awaited first kiss or third-act Hail Mary, but on sundry bits of arcana involving Hawaiian mythology, military privatization, space weaponry and — be still, our beating hearts — sound transducing.
Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
Public service announcement: Cameron Crowe’s new film “Aloha” features a party scene where Emma Stone and Bill Murray dance to Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That,” and if you (like me) are the kind of person who finds the promise of such a scene utterly delightful, let me assure you that it lives up to that promise. It’s a scene of sheer movie-star pleasure that pretty much stops the film for about three minutes; it doesn’t really move the plot (or even, in retrospect, make much narrative sense), but it feels like something Crowe had to put in, for the simple reason that he couldn’t not put it in. Maybe a more disciplined filmmaker would’ve resisted that temptation, but if we’ve learned anything about Cameron Crowe, it’s that he’s not terribly disciplined, which can be both a blessing and a curse. It seems your correspondent likes “Aloha” more than much of the critical community (to say nothing of the studio releasing it), but your enjoyment will hinge greatly on your level of tolerance for Mr. Crowe’s indulgences.
Vadim Rizov, Filmmaker
Part of the reason “Aloha” works is because Crowe never holds back: he is never less than 100% committed to really Going For It, which doesn’t necessarily mean an endless series of epiphanies, and it’s certainly not all about love. No one here speaks in a normal fashion: they’re always playing with each other and their phrasings, ramping up and slowing down their rhythms, performing elaborate verbal curlicues around each other. This is the bastardized legacy of Lubitsch transmitted to Crowe through his conversations with Billy Wilder, life as a constant state of performative play. Whether you find this charming, cloying or both is a little irrelevant: rote connective tissue is systematically rejected for something more aggressive.