If romantic comedies like 50 First Dates, Punch-Drunk Love, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are any indication, Hawaii is the destination for American men looking to sort out their troubled love lives. With a sense of being somehow removed from the real world, and the help of umbrella drinks and warm trade winds, it’s a setting that’s both familiar and yet exotic enough to offer a subtler version of the foreigners-finding-themselves-abroad narrative, crystallized in films like Lost In Translation and Eat Pray Love.
Cameron Crowe’s new film, Aloha, is the latest to recycle the magical-island trope in service of a goofy love story. But unlike its predecessors, Aloha surprisingly gets a lot right in its depiction of Hawaii—mostly by showing respect for its traditions and people—even if its attempts at realism nonetheless clash with the inherently romantic view of island life built into the premise.
The film follows Brian Gilchrist (Cooper), a defense contractor who returns to Hawaii for a project launching a satellite into space. He reconnects with his ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), who’s now married to a comically un-talkative pilot (John Krasinski), and meets Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a manic-pixie fighter pilot who’s purportedly a quarter-Hawaiian and a quarter-Chinese. The whole story is a tangled mess. Aloha sees itself as a quirky, funny, and sad, but loudly announces when it’s trying to be those things, while its attempts to develop its characters somehow feel strenuously lazy—like a driver who wastes an hour looking for a shortcut.