I don’t quite know where to start. This film is such an odd mess in its execution and presentation; the elements it has conflict with each other, the dialogue feels so quick that it flies over the head of the recipient. There are some good parts to it, those that felt more cohesive, but the end result is a peculiar one, and there is too much and too little happening at the same time. I don’t expect most romantic comedies to deviate from the norm and its conventions, but this one did in a sense—just from its outright weirder elements.
The film could have worked by retaining the premise that Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a military contractor with a history of misfortune and tribulation in the areas concerning his profession and love life. A narrated debacle in Kabul leaves him with the much-preferred option of returning to work for the military in Hawaii. There, the reappearance of a now-married old flame (Rachel McAdams) and interactions with his assigned bodyguard complete with an “amusing” name (Emma Stone) challenge his single lifestyle, patronising character, past, and ability to grow and become a more bearable person. Top it all off with a beautiful filming location, attractive stars, and laid-back soundtrack with a few familiar songs, and you’d have something that would be at least coherent. That would be so, if not for practically everything else in the film.
The other storyline you might not have realised was in the film concerns the launching of a satellite sponsored by a businessman played by a dishevelled and glassy-eyed Bill Murray. His own machinations, unknown to the rest of the characters, involve launching nuclear weapons on board the satellite, raising the stakes to Golden Eye-level proportions. This, coupled with the sudden introduction of brief and ineffective Chinese hackers, made me completely forget that a previous moment in the film featured a heated conversation between two of the leads about their feelings for each other in a Hawaiian gift shop. Back on Earth, there are other subplots that aren’t resolved or are added for the sake of including Hawaiian elements. McAdams’ son is little more than a plot device with a constantly recording video camera, whose unremitting quotations of Hawaiian myth are only there for jokes about clichéd ineffectual parents with quirky and out-of-control children.
The film also tries to incorporate Gilcrest’s developing humility for the Hawaiian way of life with the notion that what really matters is retaining a cultural and holistic outlook. There is no real resolution to this conflict, but I could see the reason for it being that way. I think what the director was really going for here was a subversion of the tropes we associate with melodrama by addressing genuine problems which we cannot immediately resolve, which admittedly the film does show. Obviously communication is key, as is our known propensity for misinterpreting people’s feelings, and the scenes between McAdams and her character’s husband are actually well-done for what they are. There are some good jokes interspersed at random intervals, some which are there for the sake of showing something unusual—like laughing at a baby named Don, or unintentionally laughing at Murray’s performance and feeling bad afterwards because he wasn’t really acting. On the other hand, some are at least reincorporated into the story, such as the husband character’s distinct muteness in several scenes, and not-Emma-Stone’s constantly-reiterated Hawaiian ancestry.
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It’s just that the film itself is so unfocused with what it’s actually trying to get across. The idea that a romantic comedy set in Hawaii, which devotes so much focus to a subplot about the dangers of technology and the effect it has upon protected environments, could turn out so unsatisfyingly is a strange one. I mean, the cast mostly did what they could. McAdams probably gives the best performance in the film, Emma Stone flips like a coin when her character starts to bond with Gilcrest, and Alec Baldwin shouts a lot.