Review: Aloha

Director: Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky)
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Producers: Scott Rudin, Cameron Crowe
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 105 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


If the “write what you know” credo is true for Cameron Crowe, he must be living a pretty solid life. Films like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous have deservedly lasted as cultural touchstones, but even then their conflicts seemed pretty inane in the grand scheme of things. It’d be something of an understatement to say that he’s been on a decline over the past decade, since at least the release of the dreadfully vanilla Elizabethtown demonstrated a complete lack of bite that had always been present in his work but only then had reached its apex to a resounding chorus of “who cares?” It took him six years to follow that up and while We Bought a Zoo wasn’t quite the piteous experience, it remained clear that Crowe had reached a point where his nascent charm had been too buried by sentimental earnestness that aroused as much rolling of the eyes as it did guilty smiles under a veil of confection.

It’s hard to argue that Aloha, his latest picture after another lengthy break, doesn’t continue the trend. Starring Bradley Cooper as a hotshot military contractor who returns to Hawaii after a disastrous setback in order to regain his mojo and respect, Crowe populates the luscious setting with as many pretty white faces as he can find. Emma Stone is the Air Force liaison sent to babysit Cooper’s Brian Gilcrest, Rachel McAdams is his former flame who is now shacked up with John Krasinski and their two adorable children, and even Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin pop in to steal a couple of scenes. While Aloha is (over) cluttered with a dense tapestry of plots ranging from nuclear arms in outer space to mythical Hawaiian legends, there’s always the pervading feeling that none of it really matters because everything will turn out okay in the end. Personal crises may be wreaking havoc on poor Gilcrest, but all you have to do is put on a Hall & Oates song and you can watch Emma Stone and Bill Murray deliver a deliriously entertaining dance sequence to make you forget all of your troubles.

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Review: Away We Go

Away We Go

Director: Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road)
Screenplay: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catherine O’Hara
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 98 min.

Meet Burt and Verona, two lovable ‘fuck-ups’ who set across the continent in search of a new life to raise their unborn daughter. Now in their mid-thirties, the couple struggles with the outer demands of maturity while staying true to the inner autism of their affection. As a nation of two with few worldly belongings and even fewer societal ties, the couple decide to breech the borders of their safe respite and visit distant friends and family in the hopes of finding a place to belong in the world. In a Broken Flowers sort of way, they bounce from one city to the next, the recipients of parental advice that run the gamut of the freakishly absurd to the sadly poignant. Though eccentric themselves, Burt and Verona come to realize how precious their bond is when compared to the unchecked madness of the new normalcy.

Away We Go unfolds in manic tonal departures that scales the heights of comedic vulgarity, indie quirkiness, wrought sentimentality and bleak candor. It is a gloriously original mess of a film that defies easy classification. Not even Judd Apatow’s formula of raunchy-comedy-with-heart quite lives up to this tone deaf mixing of the silly and the scathing. The uncomfortable explicitness of infertility and drawn-out descriptions of borderline incestuous behavior, one-up the now typical Apatow avant-guard. Even the most challenging of commercial movies do little more than flirt with the edges of the audience’s comfort zone, but Away We Go doesn’t pull its punches, and amidst radical tonal shifts evoking laughter and tears, here the audience is left to fend for themselves.

Further complicating this anomaly of a movie is its aesthetic of indifference, which is unlike anything director Sam Mendes has attempted before. His past works tend towards a stilted monumentality of composition, that pace unevenly due to the emphasis on each frame, but in Away We Go there is virtually nothing in the film that evokes his signature, and by and large the cinematograpy felt sparse. The real aesthetic of the movie is the actors themselves, particularly the pairing of John Krasinski’s Burt with his goofy and gormless wide eye innocence and Maya Rudolph’s Verona with her perfunctory self-awareness and world-weary demeanor. Despite much of the satirical elements in the film, their relationship has a lived-in believability that few cinematic couples so successfully capture. Would you like to know more…?