The best way to describe “Amelia”, the new Hilary Swank film about the highflying life of aviatrix Amelia Earhart, is to call it old fashioned. Set in the decade leading up to her fateful rendezvous with destiny in 1937 on her failed attempt to circumnavigate the globe, the movie seems to pay homage not only to Earhart but also to the films of that era.
The film lifts off with a meeting between publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere) and the then unknown Amelia (Swank). He’s looking for the next Lindberg, only this time a woman, to make a transatlantic flight and then reap the rewards of the fame that will follow. The first flight is a public relations success, but for Earhart, who didn’t actually fly the plane it’s a hollow victory. She becomes America’s Sweetheart of the Skies, famous for something she didn’t do—she didn’t actually pilot the plane—and becomes determined to stand up for female pilots and make the journey across the ocean again, solo. In time she makes the flight, becomes the world’s most famous woman and navigates not one, but two romances. The film ends with her doomed flight.
“Amelia” is a big, handsome picture with some great aerial photography and a couple of dramatic moments, but does little more than skim over the life of one of the more interesting characters of the twentieth century. Both personally and professionally Earhart was a rebel and a groundbreaker in a man’s world, but the film is content to serve up clichéd motivational successories instead of real insight.
“Amelia” could have been many things. It could have been a study of the feminist ideal. It could have been a look at the beginnings of public relations and media celebrity. It could have been an exciting films about those magnificent women in their flying machines, but instead it a snoozy look at a woman forced to utter platitudes like, “I want to fly that beautiful bird as far as it will take me.”
This will not be Hilary Swank’s third Oscar win.
She’s working it here, putting on a clipped Kansas accent and trying to inhabit the character, but the script (and an unfortunate hairdo that makes her face look three feet long) aren’t doing here any favors. Her performance is a throwback to the kind of performances given by Rosalind Russell and Ginger Rogers in Amelia’s day. To use the vernacular of the time she’s “spunky.” Spunky, but not that interesting.
She’s playing opposite Richard Gere and honestly, is there a less interesting leading man working today? He rocks the 1930s clothes and doesn’t bump into the furniture but he and Swank have zero chemistry.
There is an interesting movie to be made from Amelia Earhart’s life. In fact a few interesting movies have already been made about her life, but “Amelia” isn’t one of them. It’s well made, reverential to it’s subject and perhaps, most excitingly, is possibly the best cure for insomnia since the discovery of St. John’s Wart.