Review: Amelia Looks Great ... but Plods

"What Amelia ends up being is a film that doesn't honor its subject.

 

Amelia has a dynamite last half hour. And it looks very nice throughout the two hours -- but the first 90 minutes are sappy, silly, and devoid of compelling scenes, which leaves me at an impasse. Can I tell you to buy a ticket to the last 30 minutes? Can I give Mira Nair and Hilary Swank a pass for bringing very little to the table during the first two acts of the film? I don't think I can, or at least I don't currently see how I can. Hmmm. Let's fly there together.

This is, of course, the biopic of Amelia Earhart. Depending on who you read, Amelia was either a world-class trailblazing pilot or an unprepared "in over her head" style of woman. Or both. But what can't be denied is her legacy and the mythos surrounding her. That a woman in the news 72 years ago is still getting attention speaks to what she meant to people, the inspiration she brought to the table. Sadly, the scope of Amelia the person seems to be too big for Amelia the story, and the film doesn't even really try to give us any indication of who she really was. We know she was from Kansas, she liked to fly, and she got married to a fellow named George Putnam. She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic by airplane, first as a passenger and then solo. She was, by all accounts, a hell of a lady. But we never really get to see that in the film, her story sacrificed instead for iconic shots of her staring out the airplane window, scarf blowing, far too glossy and saccharine for any real depth.

The other issue is Richard Gere as George Putnam. I have no problem with Mr. Gere specifically, I'm sure he's a great person, but the decisions made in regard to his character are less than ideal. Amelia is a love story. But it's not a love story about Earhart and flying, or a look at greatness (a la The Natural). No, it's more a love story between Putnam and Earhart, and it comes off much more like a Lifetime "movie of the week" than it does a potential Oscar contender. It's strange, because Mira Nair's visual eye is so strong -- the movie looks tremendous -- but the dialogue and actions onscreen are stifling and eye-roll-worthy. Swank comes off as more of a cartoon, and given her body of work we know she's capable of far more. So we have two tremendously talented women getting together to tell the story of one of the most famous women in American history ... and choosing to focus largely on the things that made her just like everyone else (marriage, love letters, debt) instead of the things that made her great (derring-do, fearlessness, and a sense of the moment).

What Amelia ends up being is a film that doesn't honor its subject: we don't know Earhart any better, nothing elemental about her is explored, and all the beautiful air cinematography in the world can't save that. The film largely explores only a decade of Earhart's life and focuses far too intently on her love affair with George Putnam. Yes, I'm fairly certain Amelia Earhart was a complicated and difficult woman to distill into 111 minutes. But I think she would have been the first person to tell everyone involved to aim higher.

Grade: C-


Movie & TV Awards 2018