Netflix UK film review: Aloha
Sacredness of the Sky3
Nathanael Smith | On 10, Dec 2015Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast; Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams
Watch Aloha online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
The critical hammering and box office disappearance of Cameron Crowe’s latest film in the US meant that Aloha never made it to UK cinemas. In the UK, it’s now furtively appearing on streaming services for fans of Bradley Cooper or Emma Stone.
The US critics were right about this one: Aloha is a dud of such tonal awkwardness that Stone’s infamous ethnically mixed character is the least of the film’s problems. The story, as such, is about Cooper’s pilot, Brian Gilcrest, who worked for NASA before returning to a sleepy post on Hawaii. While there, he reconnects with his old flame, played by Rachel McAdams, and sparks fly with his fellow officer, Allison Ng (Stone). Gilcrest’s job is to try and persuade Hawaii’s indigenous population to let them send a rocket into space, or something. Bill Murray potters in and out spouting something about the future and Danny McBride substitutes moving his hands around a lot for a real character.
Crowe should, at least, be applauded for his ambition. Aloha tries, with every fibre of its being, to be profound or to say something, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of cinematic releases. What it’s trying to say, however, is anyone’s guess. There are whole scenes of people talking about the sanctity of the sky, about how the sky is special – gee, have you just looked up at that gosh darned sky? These vaguely numinous monologues are seeking some form of spirituality in a world that largely rejects it, but to no avail. This obsession culminates with a left-field development that involves missiles and air space law and Bill Murray. This major plot point comes out of nowhere and is swiftly forgotten about. The other predominant theme is about Native Hawaiians, which is interesting given that they barely feature in the film.
The problem that comes hand-in-hand with this attempted thematic exploration is that everything slows down to a halt as people just talk. The breezy, fun dialogue that made Crowe popular is, here, messy and forced. Stone and Cooper, age gap of 13 years, seem to have left their charisma in the airport, as they fumble through a screenplay that tries to be comic, dramatic, meaningful and romantic all at once and hits precisely none of those marks. Cooper, a bafflingly popular actor even at his best, is particularly weak as he has to hold up the entire film. His line deliveries are awkward, while his blocking and posture both come across as lazy and bored, but not in an intentional way. Compounding his inability to hold the film together is a supporting cast of tremendously talented people either phoning it in or hamming it up. The worst culprit is Murray, who reputedly signed up when he heard it was filmed on location in Hawaii; you can tell.
Minutes drag slowly by with no impetus or direction, amounting to a whole load of curiously lifeless drama. There’s no pace, purpose or power in the individual scenes, which are so loosely jumbled together that the 115 minute runtime regularly comes to a standstill. There are two moving moments in the whole film, scenes of such surprising power that you wish they had appeared in a different film. One involves a smart bit of subtitling, as two men communicate wordlessly, and the other is when Cooper goes to visit McAdams’ daughter when she’s learning to hula dance. There are strange ethical implications in that scene that undermine the efficacy of the film-making, but it retains an undeniable resonance, even after the mess that has preceded it. The camera lingers on this girl’s face, as she stares out of the window; you can trace her emotional journey in her changing facial expressions, played with remarkable subtlety by 15-year-old newcomer Danielle Rose Russell (better than any of her seasoned co-stars). It’s a heartfelt, beautifully played moment and it’s at this one moment you realise that Aloha could have been something truly great, but it got hopelessly lost along the way.
Aloha is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.