Movie Review: Aloha

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The idiosyncratic Aloha, which is apparently being denounced by collectivists in Hawaii on the same grounds that Islamic fundamentalists denounce depictions of Mohammed, is an unusually modern and mythical film. Aloha—a Hawaiian word which means hello and goodbye—is also refreshing.

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe (Singles, Say Anything, Vanilla Sky), a naturalistic artist who welcomed the press and introduced Aloha, the story is a love triangle centered upon a notorious military contractor (Bradley Cooper, American Sniper) who returns to the Aloha state. He is a lonely man in search of finding his place in today’s modern, chaotic world of military-industrial complexities and the wiping away of capitalism in favor of state-sponsored favoritism, though the picture doesn’t put it that way.

In competition to seduce this rare, legendary military man of the mind are two women who each, in their own particular way, reflect his most deeply held virtue, integrity, and Sony‘s Aloha mines, in gentle strokes, pictures and scenes, what it means to integrate man and myth. One woman is an Air Force pilot (Emma Stone, Birdman) whose energy and idealism invigorates him. The other is a housewife (Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris) whose past with him foretells his future. Aloha is a witty movie, with good humor thanks to a supporting cast that includes Danny McBride, Danielle Rose Russell, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin and, happily reunited from last year’s benevolent St. Vincent, Jaeden Lieberher and Bill Murray. Everyone is excellent. McAdams gives what may be her best performance.

Cooper leads Aloha all the way. His character is strong without swagger. He is introspective without angst. He faces conflict head on and, while the plot points are as hard to swallow as the reality of today’s headlines, he makes the resolution poignant and meaningful. His character is an idealist challenged by the reality of the times in which we live, facing questions—echoed by the housewife’s son (Lieberher)—about everything that’s right and wrong under the stars and the whole wide world. Crowe’s less quirky than usual, but still quirky, in the screenplay, which is meticulously planted with themes about love, life and family and what payload if any one chooses to carry and bear. These are hard times, whatever one’s state in paradise, and hard questions. Cooper’s man, balancing women, island natives and myths and military he-men, must face them alone.

Aloha‘s eye-widening theme that each one of us is, in a sense, on an island under the sky, eyes looking up at the stars, striving to answer what it means (and whether it’s possible) to own the sky—in order to own one’s place in the world—is displayed without explicit detail. But it is there, in the soft, caressing winds of the Pacific, the gray skies, images and rocket ships of what amounts to a thoughtful, and very funny, mood piece about life. The love triangle and plot about a pseudo-private spaceship launch from Hawaii are simple in these neatly arranged scenes, pictures and performances. Cameron Crowe’s simplicity is his hidden strength, however, and always has been—especially with his astute sense of music.

“You don’t want it to be taut,” one man says to a child in the movie’s most haunting line about life and the art of blending hello with goodbye, “you want it to billow.” Mr. Crowe’s Aloha—with a front page testifying to man’s greatest moment right there in that scene—boils, rises and flows.

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