Well, Scott it seems Aloha isn’t just another way to say Goodbye.
It must be another way to say marquis cast, too. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) who is a former Air Force pilot turned defense contractor. He was wounded in Afghanistan and now works for Carson Welch (Bill Murray) – a shady billionaire who is looking to take over the space program. Gilcrest has come to Hawaii to oversee the launching of Welch’s latest satellite in conjunction with the Air Force. He bumps into his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who has married heck-of-a-nice-guy John “Woody” Woodside (John Krasinski). Meanwhile, exceptionally perky fighter pilot Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone) is put in charge of supervising Gilcrest.
Gilcrest’s job is to secure permission from the King of the Hawaiian nation (Dennis Bumpy Kanahele) to allow some native burial land to be relocated so that Welch can launch his satellite. Captain Ng’s background in the spiritual importance of the issue proves invaluable in helping Gilcrest sway the King. Gilcrest finds himself not only falling for Ng but also rekindling his connection with Tracy. He also learns of a secret payload aboard the satellite that looks ominously like massive weaponry. Ng becomes upset when she discovers the secret, and Gilcrest must choose between completing his mission or doing the right thing.
Scott, I was very concerned about the ambitions of this film when I saw the stellar cast. When you have that many egos in the room at the same time, something is bound to go wrong. I was right, but for the wrong reason. This was a team of talented actors wasted on a script that was just too ridiculous to make sense. The story meandered from Hawaiian indigent rights, to military overreach, to the loss of the space program to the private sector all while trying to work in a romance and reconciliation. It was too much to pack into a 105-minute film.
On top of that, it has an incredible case of the cutes. Rachel McAdams’ character Tracy was facing some really tough choices. She had an old flame who had come to town, she was having marital problems with an incommunicative husband, and she was dealing with the paternity of her eldest child. Yet, McAdams never stops smiling from opening scene to credits. Emma Stone’s Captain Ng was so incredibly perky I wondered if she weren’t a teenager. She’s a fighter pilot for Pete’s sake. And a Captain at that – which is usually someone in their mid thirties. It was hard to know just how seriously to take this film.
In our first Reel Heroes book, we describe the tendency of movies crammed with multiple stars to be destined to failure. This movie certainly had that potential and a case could be made that this film under-performed, given that most of the all-star cast members are in their prime. As you point out, the plot is a little strange and overly complicated, plus there are a few too many characters. Director Cameron Crowe tries to do a lot here and he has all the talent and resources in the world at his disposal, but the whole doesn’t quite match up to the parts.
Yet, having said that, this film appealed to me. Aloha is a movie with a lot of heart. For me, the three female lead characters steal the show. First, Emma Stone’s wholesome sex appeal shines through in her performance as Captain Ng. Admittedly, Stone doesn’t strike me as a fighter pilot at all but she tugged at my heartstrings. The character of Tracy is a sympathetic figure as she is trapped in a bad marriage and desperately longs for a man like Gilcrest. Then we have Tracy’s daughter, Grace, played beautifully by Danielle Rose Russell, who is on the cusp of womanhood and who develops a wonderful awareness of her true ancestry. These three women characters not only saved Aloha from being a dud but carried it emotionally.
The hero of the story is Brian Gilcrest. He is the lead character in an ensemble and a love triangle. He’s got all the traits of a good hero – he’s a good guy who is trying hard to do his best. He has some sympathetic characteristics – among them he is a war veteran and is overcoming his war wounds. So we’re pulling for this guy.
The secondary characters include Captain Ng and Tracy, who Scott has already described. Other notables are Bill Murray’s Carson Welch (patterned apparently after Elon Musk of Space-X fame). This character is shadowy and looks to be a dark mentor. He is leading Gilcrest down a path of corruption and evil. There’s also Woody who is the strong silent type. He is the competition for Gilcrest’s alpha male status (does that make Woody the “beta male?”). Alec Baldwin has a fleeting role in this film as a general who yells a lot. I think he is the polar opposite of the dark mentor. He represents Gilcrest’s past – a past when Gilcrest was a military man in good standing.
Good synopsis of the relational structure of the cast, Greg. As you note, Gilcrest is a worthy hero figure who is pulled in many directions and must overcome his emotions and the evil Carson Welch in order to do the right thing. He has help from Ng and General Dixon, but mostly Ng, without whom Gilcrest would be lost professionally, romantically, and ethically. You’re right that Welch is a dark mentor who leads Gilcrest down an ominous path, much like Terence Fletcher led Andrew Nieman to ruin in the 2014 movie, Whiplash.
In movies featuring dark mentors, the hero often must overcome selfish greed to break free from the grip of the mentor. In Whiplash, Nieman has to let go of blind ambition to regain a sense of self-preservation to break free. In Aloha, Gilcrest must let go of his almost pathological need to rehabilitate his image with the Air Force. Only in this way can he break free from Welch.
Aloha isn’t a great movie. It has a confusing plot with side dishes of military, political, and historical controversy. We’re never clear on what Gilcrest wants from Tracy. And he is trying to avoid Captain Ng. We don’t much care about anyone in this movie and nobody really seems to be having much drama. It was really hard to get invested in the story. I give Aloha just 2 out of 5 Reels.
The hero of the story seems to have it all. Gilcrest is a decent guy with a few problems that he has to work out. He has a clear goal (launch the satellite) and a missing inner quality (unrequited love for Tracy). But the internal conflict appears to be about following the corrupting influence of Welch or the innocence of Ng. I can’t summon more than 2 Heroes out of 5 for Gilcrest.
The ensemble cast never really gels. Tracy (the old flame) is too happy for someone in a bad relationship. Ng (the new obsession) is too perky to be believable. Welch never appears evil enough to rise to the level of a villain. General Dixon isn’t on-screen enough to operate as a positive mentor. The King of the island appears as the innocent native. Woody is the stoic representation of what Gilcrest could have had. The ingredients are all there, but there is just not a decent stew to be made. I give the supporting cast just 2 out of 5 Cast points.
Greg, my mind agrees with you but my heart was won over by this movie. You and I have both said that the whole of the film doesn’t match the parts, and even knowing that I found myself charmed by Captain Ng, empathizing with Tracy, and moved by young Grace’s coming of age. Aloha is not a great movie, but if you are a fan of the members of this all-star cast, you just might be satisfied by this film the way that I was. I’m semi-embarrassed to give Aloha 4 Reels out of 5.
The hero story was similar to that of Whiplash in that our hero is being driven to destruction by a dark mentor on a power trip. What makes Whiplash a better film is its simplicity compared to the rather complex clunkiness of Aloha. Still, Bradley Cooper does a fine job as our hero Gilcrest, who traverses the hero’s journey in fine fashion. I’m happy to award him 3 Heroes out of 5.
As I’ve said, the three main women characters tugged at my heart and carried this film in a big way. Emma Stone may not be believable as a part-Asian fighter pilot, but her screen presence is powerful as always. The characters of Tracy and Rachel are warm, wonderful figures whom we root for, and even the male cast (e.g., the King and Woody) are wise, warm, likeable figures. In a role that’s unusual for him, Bill Murray’s eccentric and malevolent Welch character charmed me, too. This supporting cast is the star of the film. I give them a rating of 4 out of 5.