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Even with all the travel, Amelia goes nowhere.

History Lessons

Swank plays Earhart... or at least dresses up as the famed aviator
Swank plays Earhart... or at least dresses up as the famed aviator

The whole point of a biopic is to paint a picture of the subject, to give audiences a sense of the person being examined. Classic examples include Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, and Tucker. More specific to Amelia Earhart’s niche, there’s The Aviator and The Right Stuff.

Great bio-pics don’t need to be fact-for-fact and weighed down with clinical accuracy; poetic license is welcome.

Throw all that out the window when it comes to Amelia, though. It’s pretty much a flop from take off to landing. The “aviatrix,” Amelia Earhart, gamely portrayed by Hilary Swank ( Million Dollar Baby), comes across as nothing more than an ungrounded wing nut with a passion for flying around the world and smiling nicely at people who don’t speak her peculiar Kansas dialect.

Ground Control

There are many problems with Amelia, but the most egregious is the total airbrushing of the dangers and risks faced during her era. What she did was indeed groundbreaking, but instead of focusing on the risks and the personality that thrilled to such life-endangering pursuits, Amelia pollutes the air with a couple ham-handed love interests and spends far too much time on the horribly sketched relationships instead of the adventures.

Those love interests are George Putnam (Richard Gere, Pretty Woman) and Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge!). As portrayed here, the attraction to Putnam is extremely questionable, unless the answer lies in the base aspects of his money and huckster savvy. As for Vidal (the father of Gore Vidal), he at least has a spring in his step and a gleam in his smile.

But in both cases: So what?

Who was Amelia Earhart? Okay, her dad had wanderlust. But is that the sole explanation for why she’d throw herself all over the planet?

At times the movie spouts out some Earhart quotes, so tepidly stated in a feigned drawl, such as, “Who wants a life imprisoned in safety?” There’s also, “I’m pursuing my passion for the fun of it!”

Oh. Gotcha.

Lady Lindy

“The world has changed me,” Amelia says at one point. It’s a profound sentiment, but it’s unclear how she’s changed considering the movie portrays her as a bumpkin, a one-note wonder. At least the movie’s final frames are a little more revealing, thanks to vintage photos and movie reels of the real Amelia Earhart.

Conspiracy theorists hypothesize Earhart staged her own disappearance and finished off her life in peace and tranquility, having escaped the crush of the media, the glaring stare of the public, and the stress of constant scrutiny and rising expectations.

There’s no dabbling in such tantalizing thoughts here. Not at all. Instead, the movie uses the ill-fated final flight around the world as a thread weaving in and out of the other soapy material. But, oddly, there’s never a sense of destiny, there’s never a sense of dread. There’s never a sense of Amelia Earhart.

Instead, there’s a sense that director Mira Nair ( Monsoon Wedding) wanted to make a PG-rated version of The English Patient. Both movies feature a score by Gabriel Yared, but even he can’t give flight to this ill-conceived mess.