Amelia fails to take off

“If I listened to everyone who said it was impossible, I’d never be flying,” Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) advises us in the biopic Amelia. Surprising, because this movie never seems to get off the ground.
Amelia follows the story of Amelia Earhart’s life, from her early career as a pilot to her final 1937 attempt at flying around the world. Director Mira Nair rushes through all the interesting details of Earhart’s life, turning the biopic of a fascinating woman into a turgid love story between two less-than-compelling characters.
The focus of the movie quickly shifts away from Earhart’s aviation career after she meets the much-too-old George Putnam (Richard Gere). He’s immediately smitten with her, and they get married. Earhart insists that she doesn’t want Putnam to be a big part of her life, telling him that she’s not interested in a monogamous relationship.
The movie hits turbulence here. When Amelia isn’t listening to whiny George Putnam complain that she doesn’t love him enough, she’s flirting with the slimy Gene Vidal (Ewan MacGregor). Earhart’s flying career is shoved into the passenger seat, mentioned mainly through cheesy headline montages. Every time Earhart goes out to promote her career, Putnam is lurking in the background, stealing the spotlight with his emotional angst.
The highlights of the movie are the flying scenes, but these are few and far between. Earhart spends most of her time grounded on land, attending dreary social events with an an enormous smile plastered on her face. Sadly, many of Earhart’s spectacular achievements are minimized: only a few scenes are devoted to her record-breaking flights. Earhart never seems to practice flying, probably because she spends most of her time trying to sort out her romantic entanglements. Earhart’s foundation for women pilots, the Ninety-Niners, is glossed over in one scene. And her range of practical, wearable clothes for women is reduced to a cliche of female insecurity: she tells Vidal that she wears pants “to hide her ugly legs.”
The movie also tries to play historical characters for laughs, a move which backfires terribly. In one scene, a tearful young Gore Vidal (William Cuddy) rushes into Amelia’s arms during a dinner party. What’s wrong? He’s scared of the wallpaper. Yes, that’s right, the wallpaper. Pretty amazing that such an idiotic child would grow up to be an award-winning essayist.
When all else fails, the movie resorts to banality. A typical vomit-inducing exchange between Earhart and her husband goes:
Putnam: “We’re going home soon.”
Earhart: “Where’s that?”
Putnam: “For me, anywhere you are.”
Cue cheesy music.
The movie is remarkable for managing to turn the extraordinary Amelia Earhart into a predictable female stereotype. Although Amelia insists that she doesn’t want to be defined by her romantic relationships, the movie does just that. The emphasis on romance turns the movie from a soaring success into a bloody plane crash.


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