Make no mistake, Aloha is not a good film. It has a lot of plot, but the plot is incomprehensible. It features a lot of fine actors, but those actors are given little to do that is fine. There are hints and suggestions and rumors of motifs, symbols, metaphors, and themes throughout the film, but each of those promising aspects are dropped as haphazardly as they pop up. There are times when characters don’t say anything, and it’s funny, because “not talking” is a running gag in the movie. There are also times when characters don’t say anything, because the narrative beat they are acting out wasn’t, apparently, written or shot and had to be constructed out of other footage to give that moment in the story what it needs. Aloha is confounding.

For film geeks like me, movies like Aloha provide a particular kind of pleasure. They enable us to puzzle over just how fascinating the filmmaking process is. It’s as if the movie is inside-out, and we can see all the seams, which provides a unique window into movie-making. Furthermore, Aloha has a good pedigree and yet still turned out terrible. Filmmaking is a precarious endeavor. There are no guarantees of quality, no matter how good your writer, director, or stars are.

Aloha is so odd, I felt like I was missing something the entire time I was watching it, like there must be something Cameron Crowe and crew are trying to do that I was unable to pick up on. Even now, as I write this review, I’m rolling this movie around in my mind looking for a pattern in its disparate parts. 

Many of the film’s moments are good. Of course, those good moments aren’t connected narratively to any other part of the movie, but the moments themselves are still good. There’s an instance of real pathos that features Bradley Cooper and Danielle Rose Russell, but it is completely unearned by the rest of the film. Emma Stone and Bill Murray dance at one point. It’s a sequence I’m so happy exists, but it makes zero sense narratively. Bradley Cooper saves the day by doing something that ought to stand as a capital-s Symbol to include on Cameron Crowe’s lifetime achievement award highlight reel, but it feels as if the movie itself is ignorant of the moment’s potential metaphorical power.

Maybe Aloha would have been better as a song. Then, it’s “story”—and I use that term loosely—could have been suggested instead of necessarily explicated. The emotionally resonant moments could have stood on their own without the need to connect them to the spine of a plot. They could have been brought together by a musical theme and a catchy chorus instead of an indecipherable plot that borders on something from a bad James Bond movie.

But Aloha isn’t a song. It’s a movie, sort of, and a coming-of-age movie with an espionage sub-plot at that, so it needs to make sense. It does not. From its peculiar Hawaiian history juxtaposed with space race footage opening credits sequence to its inexplicable burial scene at the end, Aloha simply, mysteriously exists. Cameron Crowe calls this movie a “love letter to Hawaii” and has asked audiences to interact with it in that spirit. Hawaii is a place known for its sense of chill. Maybe that is the best way to interact with Aloha. Just let it be, man. Let it be.

You might also find these reviews of Aloha helpful:

Larsen on Film
Reel Gospel