(PG) Starring: Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Emma Stone

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a celebrated military contractor who has fallen out of favour with most of the people in his life. His career is given a lifeline thanks to an opportunity to redeem himself. This follows a professional debacle that not only upended his career, but almost ended his life. This redemptive opportunity is to be found in the mountains of Hawaii. Within five days, Brian needs to negotiate a deal for a future partnership in space exploration between a corporate sponsor, the military and the local tribal leader. Among the trials of this huge professional challenge, Gilcrest must come to terms with his past and new relationships on the island.

This kaleidoscope of drama is coloured by his former girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), her family, eccentric billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), and a hard-charging military liaison, Allison Ng (Emma Stone). Self-absorbed contractor Brian has to come to terms with letting go of his past love, and determine what he is willing to sacrifice for redemption in all aspects of his life. He also has to work out how to respond to the love/hate relationship that grows with Allison.

This twisted pineapple dream is written and directed in the unique style of Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire). Crowe fell in love with the Hawaiian Islands while filming on location. He felt that the islands had a spiritual quality that touched his life. He calls Aloha, a love letter to Hawaii. Throughout his island story, he writes of many spiritual elements and of the mythology of the volcanic islands, but gives special notice to the blowing winds which provide the ‘mana’ of Hawaii. Throughout Aloha, mana is given credit as a magical element when it blows through the trees, blows open doors and connects with the people who are aware of it. This island breeze seems to provide special powers that allow people or situations to go from the ordinary to the exceptional.

There also is the potential for ‘mana’ to be delivered by this cinematic island adventure, due to its combination of director and acting ensemble. However, this doesn’t eventuate. Instead, disappointment wafted through the screening I attended. During Aloha, there are whispers of Crowe’s signature writing abilities, but these short wisps are lost in the disjointed story and poor editing. More story development, along with a more robust character history, would have greatly benefitted Aloha. Such story and character development could then have provided the depth of relationships and credibility for key plot points that we have come to expect from Crowe’s movies (best example: Almost Famous). Instead, the jumbled plot diminished the chemistry and tensions in the central love triangle. This is most evident in the lack of chemistry between Cooper and Stone. Another prime example is the unbelievable reaction Tracy has to Brian, and her willingness to give up her family for him. Neither of these dimensions in the triangle lead to a satisfactory or plausible love story.

The only glimpse of the Crowe mana in this narrative are found in the depiction of male camaraderie and the winsome familial underpinnings. John Krasinski (The Office) is brilliant in developing a quiet foil to Cooper. The male communication model is hilarious and it strengthens the characters by adding a stabilising element to the disjointed writing. Even though the writing dismantles the relationship that Cooper and Stone are trying to depict on-screen, Krasinski and McAdams deliver the most endearing and Crowe-esque ingredients. Another short-lived magical experience is offered by the beautiful depiction of the Woodside family (despite their quirks and dysfunction).

These brief windows of the Crowe touch cannot fan the winds of mana to become a anything but a mere vapour. If Aloha is Cameron Crowe’s love letter to Hawaii, it might be worth marking it ‘Return to Sender’. 

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

1. What does the Bible have to say about romance?  (Proverbs 5: 18-19, Song of Solomon)
2. Can we find true redemption in this life? (Romans 3:24-26, Ephesians 1:7)

3. Where can we find real love, hope and joy in this broken world? (Acts 24:14-16, Romans 8:24)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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