With acclaimed early Films “Say Anything …” and “Jerry Maguire” -— his first writing credit was “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” — Cameron Crowe made a charmed transition from baby-faced rock journalist to Hollywood filmmaker of distinction. By the mid-1990s, he was hailed for his flair with well-observed, character-driven movies.
The 57-year-old writer-director-producer has chosen to work largely on his own terms, alternating quirky, often very personal films with several rockumentaries that returned him to his early life on the music scene.
As Sony Pictures plans a wide opening for his latest movie, “Aloha,” on May 29, Crowe is decades removed from his biggest successes, busy branching into television, and dearly in need of a return to top form, for both himself and for the studio.
It’s hard to measure expectations for “Aloha,” though, because of its fraught journey to the screen and its makers’ reticence to talk about the picture.
Billed by Sony as “the summer’s smartest romantic comedy,” the film endured an embarrassing tongue-lashing last year from then-Sony film chief Amy Pascal — as exposed in emails released after the crippling November computer hack. More recently, Crowe and Sony declined interviews.
Pascal’s replacement, Tom Rothman, is pushing hard for change, and the studio is trying to regain its footing after the cyber-attack and a string of subpar releases. But Sony has supported “Aloha” with just one trailer, and declined to screen the film for a reporter. Executives agreed to talk about the picture only if their names weren’t used.
More recently, last week, the company screened the film in London and stars Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper met with the media for a series of interviews. (Cooper is starring in a West End production of “The Elephant Man.”) Said one Sony exec: “Our talent is supporting this film in a big way.”
Crowe has a substantial fanbase, and younger viewers are showing interest in a winning cast that includes not only Cooper and Stone but Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin. Cooper plays a military contractor who returns to Honolulu, where he reunites with an old flame and meets an intriguing new colleague.
“It looks more like the vintage Cameron Crowe that I would like to see,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co.
The average moviegoer is unlikely to be familiar with Pascal’s scathing observations. She called a couple of plot devices “ridiculous” and worried the interplay of the flirty principals might make them unlikable. “I don’t care how much I love the director and the actors,” she wrote. “It never, not even once, ever works.”
Pascal declined to discuss the movie, but Sony executives said privately that it’s not unusual for films to be subjected to such blunt talk behind closed doors. After some reshoots and considerable editing, “Aloha” is now tighter and more appealing, two of the films’ backers said. A crucial relationship has been brought to a clearer resolution.
“It’s been months since those emails, and a ton of work has been done since then. The movie is really, really different,” said one Sony executive, recalling a pair of rocky test screenings last year. “It’s going to be a lot more satisfying for audiences.”
After some time to clear his head from the embarrassing emails, and work on his Showtime series, “Roadies,” Crowe labored to buff up “Aloha,” said two individuals who worked closely with him.
While one journalist noted that Sony is embargoing reviews until the eve of the premiere, a Crowe ally said the director is proud of “Aloha” and looks forward to screenings this week in New York and Los Angeles. Said the Crowe associate:“No one is hiding from this film.”
At a little more than $40 million to make, “Aloha” doesn’t have to recoup a tentpole sized-outlay. “Is it ‘Say Anything’ or ‘Jerry Maguire?’ Probably not,” said the Sony exec. “But is it a really entertaining movie for an audience? Yes, it is.”
Crowe is not the first writer or director who has been challenged to meet high early standards. And many in his craft would be more than satisfied with his mid-career oeuvre. “Almost Famous” (2000) became an enduring cult favorite, despite modest B.O. “Vanilla Sky,” an offbeat tale reuniting the filmmaker with his “Jerry Maguire” star Tom Cruise, was a critical disappointment that nonetheless attracted $203 million in global ticket sales. “We Bought a Zoo” (2011) got decent notices and took in more than $120 million worldwide.
Crowe’s loyal fanbase in the creative community is rooting for “Aloha” to strike a chord. The trailer drew a warm reception from theater operators at last month’s CinemaCon.
Even an executive at a rival studio climbed into the peanut gallery: “I really want it to do well,” the exec said. “I know a lot of people who feel that way.”