Here I will write about two movies I saw as of late, “While We’re Young” and, “Aloha”. Both are by acclaimed directors who have pretty large (for cinema) fanbases around them. Both also deal with growing up, change and connection, even though, “While We’re Young” is more about inter-generational connections/differences (or lack thereof) surrounded by contextual/somewhat ironic cultural appropriation…while the other movie, “Aloha”, is a drama of redemption and love surrounded by sincere cultural appropriation and plot devices/musical cues out the ass. Out of these two, “While We’re Young” is a better movie even at it’s most didactic, due to how it utilizes insights AND a few cliches in clever ways that also punctuates the movie’s brutal central truth. “Aloha”, on the other hand, fails because of how it underlines it’s characterizations and world, ranging from the bland to the kind of stuff that makes one yell, “Oh, COME ON!” Here I will go into why, “While We’re Young” is quite possibly a movie for the ages, while, “Aloha” is…ugh. To call, “Aloha” a trainwreck would be an insult to the very concept of a trainwreck, for it’s not so much an ambitous failure as it is a series of flashcards and Hawaiian postcards lined up on a board, with your parent’s smartphone switching between tracks just to make certain moments seem to have more weight than they actually do. Don’t get me wrong, “While We’re Young” does with pop culture and philosophy what, “Aloha” does with just about everything it tries to grapple with, but the differences in quality and execution are so stark they’re almost horrifying. Both movies may as well be two seperate lists on how to make movies, with one being the, “Good” and the other being a giant bucket labelled, “Don’t Even THINK of Doing These Things”.
So…”Aloha”. God, what a mess, and not even the good kind. Oh, sure, the actors TRY to make their character development believable…but they can’t. Not Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Alec Badlwin, Rachel McAdams, Pu’uhonua Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, John Kraskinski or even Bill Murray can save this project. All of their characters are united by the one trait that brings this movie down: the habit of having the central romance/redemption arc overshadow everything that could have made the movie have more depth than it actually does. It then just leaves said arc to flatten every character to mere archetypes (and in some cases, stereotypes) to the point where the screenplay has the main character STATING THEIR PERSONALITY TRAITS AND ACTIONS OUT LOUD as opposed to demonstrating them through character action. Even worse, the central arc has very little complexity beyond various kinds of plot contrivances that the writer believes makes the story have higher stakes than it actually does, ranging from the bland to the, “Are you fucking kidding me?” variety of plot device.
So, in a way, that explains the whitewashing (Emma Stone playing a character who is, to quote the movie, “one quarter Hawaiian”), but it also explains why the movie fails when it decides to stretch itself into a would-be epic. The movie, in addition to being a drama about redemption and love, struggles to be a commentary on the privatization of the military, the fall of NASA, the follies/costs of war, and colonialism. No, seriously, a movie that has Emma Stone playing a mixed-race person named Allison Ng, who constantly refers to themselves as, “one quarter Hawaiian”, thinks it has something to say about the U.S. military occupation/colonialization of Hawaii. Because the movie emphasizes it’s central themes above all else, redemption, openness and falling in love, these plots end up being compartmentalized, with some being resolved with handwaves while others have enormous plot holes. The result is a movie that at best has too little might to match its aspirations, to the point where one wonders if, “Aloha” really IS the auteur-driven labor of love it has been advertised/hyped as (though auteurism is debatable as a concept). At worst, the movie plays like the kind of self-aggrandizing, narcissitic bullshit where everything and everyone is bulldozed away just to close a cliched, “another chance at true love” plot that almost anyone can create (and has already been created in better ways with other movies).
“While We’re Young”, on the other hand, is a movie that could not have come at a better time, what with all of the recent ballyhooing/self-fellating about generational differences and why the other side sucks. Oh, it has it’s flaws. Indeed, as brilliant as the movie is, it can’t help but be a little bit on the didactic and obvious side, as it underlines plot points, pop-culture references, philosophical conversations, jokes and even character actions to prove it’s big point: growing up requires compromise and loss, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some hope. What makes such sly emphasis work is that the movie is fucking hilarious and smart, serving bitter truths about idealism, growing up, selfhood and even ART with heapings of sugar. Such a movie would probably make for a pretty decent comedy you would catch on Netflix/Amazon Prime/Youtube/Archive.org or on late-night TV. But with the writting/direction of Noah Baumbach, you’re actually watching something close to a generations-defining epic that strips away all the stereotypes one has about the young and the old, revealing each and every character not as stand-ins for categories of human being, but rather as INDIVIDUAL human beings, for better and for worse.
On the surface, it’s just another inter-generational movie starring a bunch of characters, and it would be tempting for one to resort to the usual cliches: generational differences, ballyhooing about, “people these days” and the like (see, every social media post/news article about, “Millenials” and how much they suck, “Baby Boomers” and how much they suck, “Generation X” and how much it has it’s head up its ass etc.) Except, “While We’re Young” doesn’t exactly do that. It doesn’t judge it’s characters, it just lets them breathe, struggle, do wild shit and say biting and funny things at/with each other, blurring the lines between what an, “adult” is supposed to be and what a, “child” is supposed to be with equally funny and thought-provoking results. In other words, this is the cinematic exploration of generational differences, modern times, art and idealism that the movie, “Birdman” WISHES it could be when it grows up. This is a movie that everyone could benefit from seeing, simply because of how broad and yet detailed it is. One can only hope it will make people stop the, “MY generation is the best!” psuedo-arguments…or, at least, rethink why they believe that.
So, yeah, that’s, “Aloha” and “While We’re Young”. One is a worthwhile movie, the other is a waste of time, but there is A LOT to learn from these two movies. Just be sure to bring a bottle of aspirin if one chooses to see, “Aloha” because goddamn.
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