Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Amelia (*)

Directed by Mira Nair


There are a handful of people in history that you can just name and think "I'd like to see a movie about this person". Amelia Earhart is one of those people. Unfortunately, Amelia seems to be a film made by a bunch of people kicking around the idea about a film of Earhart, but with no idea how to execute it. The result is a stunningly boring film containing absolutely no characters, just caricatures.

It's not like the film does not have pedigree. It stars Hilary Swank in the title role, and has Richard Gear and Ewan McGregor in supporting performances. It also is directed by the visual seamstress Mira Nair, the filmmaker behind Monsoon Wedding and Vanity Fair. I'm not sure though, how much any of these people actually care about the story of Earhart, because what they produce is nothing more than a surface-y costume biopic that has no interest in telling a functional, engrossing story. Instead, viewers are forced to experience one of the most misguided film experiences of all time.

The film starts when Amelia is introduced to her future husband George Putnam (Gere), a feisty, opportunistic publicist who plans to make Amelia the female Lindbergh. She crosses the Atlantic (as a passenger, not a pilot), and is the first woman to do so. This does not satisfy her hunger for the air. George and Amelia fall for each other, and together they make her a public relations darling and product spokeswoman which supplies them with the money to fund her flying. After she successfully flies her own plane across the Atlantic, she becomes the most famous woman in America.

As she becomes a worldwide celebrity, she attracts the attention of fellow aviator Gene Vidal (McGregor). The two exchange knowing glances of passion, and before long indulge in their attraction. When George discovers the affair, though, Amelia quickly ends it, and realizes how much she has with George. Amelia convinces George to finance her next project: a flight around the world. She has the help of expert flight navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston), who has a bit of a drinking problem. I think we all know what happened when she went on that flight.

If my plot summary felt vapid and unpoetical, it is only because the film itself is so completely convoluted and empty, that you're left with nothing but a fifth-grade picture book about Amelia Earhart. The film cannot focus on a central conflict. There is Amelia's struggle to thrive in a male-dominated profession (this includes combating the blatant misogyny of George). There is the romantic conflict, where she becomes torn between two men. Then, there is the conflict dealing with the difficulty of her flights--which, as we all know, was what lead to her demise. The film does not commit to any of these conflicts, and all are horribly underdeveloped. There is a scene where Amelia explains to George that she is free woman, who can't be held be "even the most attractive cage". The filmmakers expect us to just accept this as the major conflict, but it is simply too weak.

If we accept Amelia as an honest portrayal of Amelia Earhart, then we are also expected to believe that Earhart was nothing more than a unsuspecting adulteress who spoke in nothing but the most abominable cliches. She doesn't seem to possess anything in the way of emotion, which is interesting because she seems to smile and cry a lot--sometimes simultaneously. Perhaps most of the blame can be placed on Hilary Swank, who gives the most sluggish performance of her career, but she's not the only one to point the finger at. McGregor and Gere are equally mediocre, and Nair's direction is particularly lazy. There is absolutely no effort put forth by any of the filmmakers to capitalize on some of the more compelling opportunities the Amelia Earhart story presents. Which is a shame, cause its such an interesting story.

The last act has some punch, and Eccleston gives the only performance of substance, but the film never really encapsulates the aura of aviation I feel it should have. The Aviator kind of raised the bar for movies in that regard. The early word was that Amelia was going to be an Oscar bait film, and Swank was an early prediction for Best Actress. I could assume that the production of Amelia was probably rushed for its Oscar campaign, and I'd like to think that instead of simply that the filmmakers are mediocre. I wondered throughout the film why the characters of Amelia and George sounded like the Kennedys, but then I remembered: this film does not care about why something is, just that it is as much as possible.

1 comment:

sophomorecritic said...

yeah, i'm not surprised. i'll bet they made the film thinking "it will win an oscar nom for hillary swank no matter what so we should be assured of that"