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Amelia (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 5, 2023


AMELIA (2009)

Starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson, Cherry Jones, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Abrams, Dylan Roberts, Scott Yaphne, Tom Fairfoot, William Cuddy and Ryann Shane.

Screenplay by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan.

Directed by Mira Nair.

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.  110 minutes.  Rated PG.

Amelia Earhart lived a fascinating, exciting, groundbreaking life, but you wouldn’t know it from Mira Nair’s Amelia.

If this movie biography is all you have to go by, you might come to believe that she had a kind of dull, colorless, rigid life.

This is a biographical movie as stuffy museum piece.  Amelia Earhart was a pioneer in both aviation and in women’s rights – but Amelia is just a dry recitation of her curriculum vitae.  You learn a bit about the “what,” the “when” and the “where” of her life, but glean little of the “who” and even less of the “why.”

Amelia has the additional handicap of many bio-pics about legendary historical characters.  Most people going in know how it all will end – or at least as much is possible to know.

Earhart’s disappearance – due to a probable plane crash during her attempt to fly around the world – is a well-known historical fact.  There are few people out there that don’t have at least the vague knowledge of the fact that she was a famous pilot who ended up mysteriously vanishing during a flight.  And frankly, those out there who don’t know about it probably won’t be seeing Amelia, anyway.

Therefore, when you are telling a story where everyone who sees it knows essentially how it is going to end, you have to make the parts of the story that the audience doesn’t know really fly.  (Apologies for the semi-unintentional pun, but it really is an apt image.)

Earhart, as played by two-time Best Actress Hilary Swank, is an unbearably dry character.  She is hard to warm up to because she is so clipped and cold.  It is interesting, because her future husband, publishing magnate George Putnam (played by Richard Gere) tells Amelia in the film that aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh had a stick up his ass – and in the whole movie, the audience can’t help but feel that description also applies to the heroine of the story.

Obviously very few people alive now really knew Earhart well.  Earhart apparently died – though her body was never found – at 40 years old in 1937.  (Though one little boy character here grows up to be novelist Gore Vidal.)  However, word is that Amelia was a bit of a wild woman – adventurous, fun-loving, hard-living and a bit reckless.  In fact, though the movie and tone of characterization was totally different, you have to wonder if Amy Adams did not capture the high spirits of the woman better when she played Earhart in the admittedly inferior movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

It’s too bad, because there are some intriguing, lesser-known facts which are covered here.  True, I am hardly a student of her story, but I never realized that when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic she was actually a passenger, not the pilot.  It also turned out that early in her career, her well-to-do husband essentially fixed some races for her, and also had her shill for more products than Tiger Woods did.

These are interesting, less well-remembered corners of Earhart’s life, yet the movie doesn’t really let the character totally express her opinions on these less-than-heroic aspects of her life, beyond occasional mild acknowledgement of her discomfort with these facets of her celebrity.

Also, too much of her love life is underexplored here.  Her relationship with Putnam goes from boss/employer to lovers to devoted spouses without really clueing the audience in on how these shifts came about.  There is also a short-lived affair with politician Gene Vidal (played by Ewan McGregor) which seems to come out of the blue.

Other important points in her life – like her reaction to drink after surviving her father’s alcoholism and her own perceived recklessness – are touched upon, but again never quite given the story weight that they deserve.

Amelia Earhart had a fascinating life. That is undeniable.  Therefore, Amelia will always have a certain amount of intrigue.  However, seeing Amelia, you can’t help but feel it is a great story that is not told nearly as well as it should have been.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: February 7, 2010.

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