Synonymous with the ‘Aloha’ movie is tidal wave of criticism it has received on social media, mostly as a response to racial discrimination in Hollywood, the inaccurate romanticizing of Hawaii, and portrayals of Hawaiian caricatures. Much of the – not aggression – angst, was focused upon director Cameron Crowe’s decision to cast one Emma Stone as leading lady Captain Allison Ng, whose Hawaiian and Asian heritage was repeatedly mentioned throughout the film. And though Crowe was eager to apologize for any offense given, the bad taste remains for many viewers, dissuading a not unsizeable bunch from boycotting ‘Aloha’ altogether.
This I understand. But I still had to see it.
Don’t get me wrong; I completely agree that racial and ethnic under-representation/misrepresentation in any form has the potential to cause real damage. Should Ng have been played by someone else? Absolutely! By someone who at least shares the same heritage proudly claimed in the film? Well, there’s where I start seeing grey. My problem with this movie isn’t Stone’s ethnicity – it is her performance.
Now, I sense I have just drawn perhaps comparable ire from Stone’s exploding fan base that Crowe did from the Hawaiian and Asian communities. I should know, because I’m a HUGE Emma Stone fan. I have a difficult time not liking Emma Stone in any of her roles. I even swallowed ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ (parts of it) because that girl brings a charm to the screen unlike any young actress I’ve seen. But everything from the messy characterization, to the botched chemistry with Bradley Cooper gave me pause to reevaluate my position.
Perhaps I’m finding myself in a similar situation to my concerned Polynesian counterparts in that I’m not sure whose more to blame: Stone or Crowe. In some instances, the culprit is clearly Crowe. Others not so much. Consequently, below is my attempt to keep either of them from shouldering all the blame, and at least vindicate to a degree one of my favorite actresses.
Crowe’s Fault: From the start, this movie is built on awkward situations. That’s not blameworthy, to be clear; a good storyteller will always intentionally introduce tension -sexual, physical, cultural, etc. – right from the get-go. Otherwise, we’d be saying “aloha” ourselves (and not the good kind).
Crowe is guilty of all the unintended awkwardness in this film. What do I mean by unintended? I’ll answer that by asking this: just how many “knowing glances” need to be shared by the happy couple before we are to understand there is something not being said that we desperately want to hear? 1? 5? 13? I think Crowe settled for a baker’s dozen on this one. Silence is great on screen, but it can be superfluous, and here it was. Save for one, almost Judd Apetow-esque moment at the end, the silence contributes nothing, and even drives a wedge between two people we are all rooting for.
Stone’s Fault: Not to say Emma Stone is completely without culpability. Where Crowe destroys her character with absence, she draws the yoke with an overabundance of presence. At any given moment in this film, Stone is playing a different character: a stern military captain, a lonely young girl, a full-fledged Hawaiian, a fearless fighter pilot, an environmentalist, a sexy female lead, and the list goes on. And hey, I’m all for depth. Love depth. Born in depth. But in a movie whose running time is too short for more than one, maybe two elaborate back stories (were keeping Cooper’s and McAdams’s, by the way), Stone’s efforts to capture this already complex and interesting character was overwhelmed by her high frame-rate of decisions. She achieves no chemistry with Cooper because both of them are still figuring out how to relate to Ng, and both are failing.
Thankfully, this movie’s integrity as a great story of nostalgia, regret, and retribution will not be sullied by a couple of poor acting and directing choices. Overall, it’s insanely well-cast and well-directed. This is because for the most part, Crowe allows his players to do what they do best: just don’t give Bill Murray any real lines, let Cooper be crazy, McAdams be alluring, Alec Baldwin to be in charge (and irate), Krasinsky to be a little too good-looking, and McBride to be whatever the heck he is, and you’ll have a great start to the summer movie season.
As for Emma Stone? I’m not too worried about her. Every every actor and actress has that one movie, every Affleck has his own personal ‘Daredevil’ knowing full well that an ‘Argo’ is just around the corner.