Monday, June 1, 2015

Aloha [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (2 stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

Aloha [2015] (written and directed by Cameron Crowe) is perhaps an odd concoction -- a "military romcom" -- but I do think that 20-somethings to whom "romcoms" are generally directed would "get it," especially 20-somethings from a neighborhood such as mine in "ethnic" (Slavic/Hispanic) Chicago where stories of past inform the present ("back in the day" is real here) and a spirit of SERVICE thankfully still trumps caring only / above-all for "number one."

And so it is, this is a story about Brian Gilcrest (played by Bradley Cooper) from middle if perhaps already suburban America who joined the Air Force when he was young ("back in the day...") with sincere dreams of "Going to Space" and who somewhere in the course of the 15-20 years that followed "lost" or even "was pushed" (by trends/circumstances off) "his way."  By the time we meet Brian in the story, he's become a "military contract specialist" working for a private defense contractor headed by an oddish/flamboyant "billionaire entrepreneur" Carson Welch (played by Bill Murray) along the lines of the similarly oddball/flamboyant (fictional / Marvel Comics character) Tony Stark [IMDb] and the (actual) Howard Hughes / Sir Richard Branson (of Virgin Atlantic fame).

Welch is still in the aerospace business (hence why Brian is working for his firm) and is still even something of a patriot.  However, Welch would clearly feel more at home with the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie of the first Gilded Age and with Donald Trump, Steve Jobs and some of the other Silicon Valley hot-shots of the current one, than with Genenal (later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower to say nothing of the "grunts on the ground."  (Indeed, Alec Baldwin plays a somewhat endearing if also somewhat anachronistic character named General Dixon who probably would like to be "Eisenhower-like" at a time when truly the "military-industrial complex" is (certainly portrayed as) "ruling the roost").  So a good part of the subtext of this film is a tension competing between "visions / narratives of America": the one of the "high flying" entrepreneurial "billionaires" and the one of the still inspired, still hard working (still actually doing the work...), (military) service people "below."

And of these hard-working, still inspired, still believing "grunts" / "little people" there are quite a few in this film:

There's Brian Gilcrest's _adorably "complex"_ 20-something  "military liaison" Allison Ng (played in INSPIRED FASHION by Emma Stone).  She's a thoroughly professional, tough as nails, even if _ever_ (and _sincerely_) smiling "Hillary Clinton golden girl" F-22 Fighter pilot who EVERYONE there at Hickem (of "back in the day" / WW II fame...) Joint Air Force Base outside of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii believes has a GREAT FUTURE ahead of her.  Yet, 1/4 Hawaiian, 1/4 Chinese (that's where the Ng comes from), 1/2 Swedish, she's a _blonde Hawaiian_ who knows her culture, its dances, its traditions, its stories and most of all its values.  And she's a hotshot, again ever smiling, FIGHTER PILOT, who's still VERY UNCOMFORTABLE with the "militarization of the sky."  I LOVE HER CHARACTER.   I can think of at least a 1/2 dozen to a dozen young people (and mostly young women) at my parish who exhibit similar earnest / wonderful 20-something complexity ;-). 

Then there's Brian's 13-years past "ex" girlfriend Tracy Woodside (played again remarkably insightfully by Rachel McAdams), wife now to Air Force C-17 (cargo plane) pilot John "Woody" Woodside (played by John Krasinski) and mother to two children, TWELVE YEAR OLD Grace (played by Danielle Rose Russell) and 8-10 year old Mitchell (played by Jaeden Lieberher).  It's clear that "Woody" would not have been her first choice as life-partner/soul-mate/HUSBAND (that would have been Brian ... "back in the day") but Brian CHOSE to "be busy" / pursuing "high flying career" and so she did "settle with" (in more ways clearly than one...) / make an earnest go of it with not particularly talkative BUT (again) EARNEST / HONEST / RELIABLE "Woody."

There is then of course Woody, already described above, who actually Brian understands AND RESPECTS if perhaps only with the knowledge / wisdom that comes with (life) experience.  Woody, may be kinda "woody", hence kinda boring ... but he is the kind of guy one can build a life around.  Brian, perhaps more "fun" ... and PERHAPS even in his own way sincere ... is just too busy "chasing dreams" (even as the "dreams" shape-shift / change around him ...) to be particularly reliable for a _serious_ LTR.

All these characters converge / come together, there at Hickam Joint Airforce Base in the "Aloha" State of Hawaii, when Brian, at Carson Welsh's behest comes there to "smooth over" a potential problem with a group of native Hawai'ians led by Dennis Bumpy Kanahele [IMDb] (played by himself), the titular head of Hawaii'an independence movement, the Nation of Hawai'i, and descendant of the last Hawai'ian king Kamehameha, over the expansion of the Base to include a Carson Welsh-run (privatized) space-port. 

While Brian's ability to "schmooze" over anybody, including "problematic natives" (even all the way "out there in Afghanistan"), has become the stuff of legend in-and-about the military (and why Carson Welsh put him on his payroll ...), his quite smooth "veneer"  has "begun to wear."  "Out there in Afghanistan," he apparently "ran into problems."  Here, his also quite "political" / "rising star" ever smiling (and 1/4 Hawaiian / Hawai'ian when she has to be) Air Force liaison Ng proved quite useful (Without her, he wouldn't have been able to get anywhere Kanahele's group ...).  And then there's the awkward reckoning that he faces with Tracy, her "second choice" husband Woody, and their two adorable (and growing) kids.

What's he to do?  How's a talented (and notorious) "fixer" to "fix" this (with his old "ex", her husband and (their) adorable kids)?  Can it be "fixed"?  And what (additional) help is he gonna need?

Honestly a very, very good, FUN and even QUITE INSIGHTFUL contemporary romcom!  Yes, I know that a lot of critics didn't like (or understand ...) this film.  But I honestly thought that the characters and the (quite contemporary) situation (on multiple levels) was (quite) brilliant.  So, honestly good job folks / good job!  And certainly Emma Stone's performance in this film deserves notice!   (Again, I can think of at least a 1/2 dozen young women in my Parish who are very much like her ;-)  So good and again insightful job in capturing a _today_ that _has shifted_ but is still recognizable to those of us who remember "back in the day." ;-)

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