The ‘Aloha’ list

“Aloha” is a movie that you’d like to take to a 12-step re-write program because the tangle Cameron Crowe has created doesn’t work on so many levels, despite the cast of likable and talented actors and a beautiful scenery.  Crowe’s earnestness is thick and sticky like molasses, making moments more cloying than sweet and slowing down dialogue that should be light and breezy. His recent apology makes you want to sympathize with the director/writer, but it’s not enough to justify buying tickets and sitting through 105 minutes of beautiful scenery and a great soundtrack.

This romantic-comedy longs to be a zany comedy, but also wants to be a heartfelt, sentimental love letter to Hawaii and an inspiring though improbable mid-life crisis story.

In the movie, Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) left the U.S. Air Force for the dark side, in this case, working in the private sector for a scuzzy rich dude named Carson Welch (Bill Murray). Gilcrest botched his last project that not only was a crash-burn for his career, he also permanently injured his leg. This trip to Hawaii is his last chance, his only chance to recover his career.

What he actually does isn’t quite clear, but for a joint Air Force project, Welch needs Gilcrest because he’s the only guy with the know-how and the right connections. The military, represented by a brash Alec Baldwin as General Dixon, has been in Hawaii for many, many years, but somehow has no one with strong ties with the locals, particularly the native Hawaiians. Gilcrest used to have a personal relationship with one of the leaders of the native Hawaiians. For this operation, he is assigned a watchdog, an over-eager Air Force pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone).

Gilcrest has been in Hawaii before and when he lands at Hickam Field in Oahu, he immediately sees his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams). Tracy had phoned Gilcrest several times in the past year, but Gilcrest hadn’t returned her calls. Soon after they broke up nearly 13 years ago, Tracy married John “Woody” Woodside (John Kransinski) and they live across from the base with two kids: the 9-year-old Mitchell (Jaeden Lieberher) and the 13-year-old Grace (Danielle Rose Russell).

Mitchell is a bright, obsessive kid who videotapes everything and knows about Hawaiian myths and legend, including the one about Lono. Lono was a pale god who returns to save the islands. Captain Cook was the first who tested that one and things didn’t end well for him. This time around Gilcrest is Lono.

Tracy invites Gilcrest over for dinner. Woody, in the best scene of the movie, asserts his role as husband, but there’s something there, a reason that Tracy wants Gilcrest in Hawaii and with her family. You might have figured it out already.

However, if you’re a man on a tropical island and having a midlife crisis, you need to have a romance, preferably with a  younger woman. That is what the Ng character is there for. She also represents the local color; she is supposedly 1/4 Native Hawaiian and 1/4 Chinese. That explains why a blonde and blue-eyed white all the way through actress was cast.

Ng helps Gilcrest make the deal with the Hawaiians and falls in love with Gilcrest and helps him understand the spiritual side of Hawaii AND make a moral decision that prevents a nuclear threat. All of this in less than two weeks. At least Gilcrest and Ng will have a date for New Year’s Eve because this all happens during the holiday season.

My husband wanted me to do the math. Bradley Cooper is 40. Emma Stone is 26. Rachel McAdams is 36. John Krasinski is 35. That means, 13 years ago, McAdams would have been an impressionable 23. Does that not scream: Mid-life crisis?

My “Aloha” list of problems:

  1. White man saves the world didn’t work for Captain Cook why should it work now?
  2. The hapa/hafu thing doesn’t work. You could possibly see a blonde who was 1/4 Hawaiian but the mix of 1/4 Hawaiian and 1/4 Chinese, it really doesn’t work with Emma Stone, no matter how perky her character’s long-winded explanation is.
  3. If the majority of the dialogue in the first half and even the second half is devoted to exposition, then the plot is too improbable.
  4. If after 13 years, the husband doesn’t take a nice photo of his wife, the marriage is in trouble.
  5. If the wife insists on folding up an old photo of her and her ex-boyfriend–the one that came before her husband, and places it in a frame opposite the husband’s photo so that only her face shows, the marriage has always been paddling through troubled waters.
  6. If the husband doesn’t notice that his wife is clinging to an old photo of her ex-boyfriend and displaying it in a prominent place in his home for 13 years, then the husband is probably doesn’t pick up most social signals and needs a guide and interpreter to work with other humans.
  7. The writer needs to make a decision about what the main character actually does. He should not just be a handy plot device.
  8. Large trucks are easily noticed on Oahu, particularly on the Pearl Harbor side because the streets are pretty narrow. That would not be the case on some areas of the U.S. mainland.
  9. The import of goods is strictly monitored in Oahu because it is an international port. Oahu has few natural resources and none of them related to nuclear energy.
  10. Nuclear material is strictly monitored in the U.S. and is hard to obtain.
  11. In the 1950s, the paranoid U.S. government monitored Chinese immigrants who had contact with Mainland China. Having a high tech space control room in the back of the Chinatown in Hawaii would possibly be a security risk for that reason unless all foreign nationals were investigated and monitored as well as the people with contact with foreign nationals.
  12. Places that sell food are usually subject to governmental inspections. Having a high tech space control room in the back of such a place would require some measure to avoid detection.
  13. Having a space control room in a tourist area would be an additional security risk.
  14. The coast of Oahu is populated and under surveillance by tourist and the military. The island of Hawaii would have more space for expansion. The coast of Florida would be easier to have covert operations and is also close to the space program as is Texas.
  15. If the movie had taken more of a comedic approach (e.g. “Men in Black”), then the Chinatown portion could have worked.

I’m not saying that casting should follow strict ethnic DNA-testing considerations. If you want to cast East Asians, remember we don’t all look alike. There are some who look more Southern Chinese or Northern Chinese. There might even be some who are black. But black as Maori or other Polynesian is different from black Somalia or black Kenyans.

Watching “Aloha” and reading the reviews and commentary by other Asian Americans I thought that Hollywood writers might consider this 12-step program.

  1. Admit that you are powerless over the actual demographics of the U.S. and the world. If you set the action in an area where the majority of the population is not white, then consider having the main character being of that ethnicity. If you’re writing a true story, really think twice before you change the race of the characters from ethnic to white (“Argos”) or erase a whole segment of the military force (“Emperor”).
  2. Believe that there’s something more powerful than Manifest Destiny and the White Man’s Burden and even method acting. Marlon Brando was a great actor, but he could not overcome his whiteness to play a Japanese man in the 1954 “The Teahouse of the August Moon.” Likewise, I’m a fan of Kate Hepburn, but I’m not a fan of her casting as Jade in the 1944 “Dragon Seed.”
  3. Make a decision to turn your will and life over to the care of real experts and release yourself from the white savior genre. You have to desire to stop whitewashing and stop using yellowface. Consider this: Would the story be more interesting from a different non-white or non-male point of view?
  4. Take a moral inventory of your own prejudices and be fearless in considering another point of view. Remember that we are all human and, if that fails, remember the success of the 2012 “Life of Pi” and the 1993 “The Joy Luck Club.”
  5. Admit to those you  that you have offended the exact nature of your wrongs. Do it quickly and be sincere.
  6. Be ready to remove all those defects in your character, in the character of your characters and even in the list of actors you’re considering hiring to play your characters. If you need to overexplain why your character doesn’t look like he or she is Asian, or if you need to make your character half-Asian to cast a white person or if all of the leads are non-Asians pretending to be Asians and then you use Asians as background, you must realize you have a problem.
  7. Humbly ask for help removing your shortcomings. Make friends and make contacts with groups dissimilar from you. Get more than one group. Listen not just to the yes-men, but also to the men and women who don’t agree with you.
  8. Make a list of all the persons, all the actors who weren’t white enough, but also ended up not being ethnic enough or Asian enough and apologize.
  9. Make direct amends to such people when possible. Make or support movies by and about real Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
  10. Continue to take personal inventory and when you are wrong, admit it and apologize, promptly. Some of us haven’t forgotten that public call for beautiful East Asian women to be costumed background for a 2003 “The Last Samurai” Los Angeles premiere party.
  11. When you seek prayer and meditation, want to be more Zen or have your chakras analyzed or if you want to release your physical aches using yoga, show respect for the cultures and the people, past and present from those cultures. Remember that Bethlehem is in Palestine, Nazareth is in Israel and both countries are in Western Asia. Buddha was born in India which is in Central Asia. Mohammed was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia which is also in Asia.
  12. Practice the principles of multi-cultural respect and spread them throughout the community.

Good intentions aren’t enough. A talented cast isn’t always enough. “Aloha” might be Cameron Crowe’s love letter to Hawaii, but it’s not getting a lot of love–from Sony as evidenced by the hacked emails and not from the critics and not from the Asian Pacific Islander American community. Even love sometimes isn’t enough to make a movie worth making or worth seeing.

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