Amelia (2009)

I didn't know all that much about Amelia Earhart before I watched Amelia. I did not know, for example, that she had been married, or that she had an affair with aviation entrepreneur Gene Vidal (Gore's pop). I *did* know that she was a pioneering feminist and aviatrix, and that she disappeared over the Pacific while attempting to fly around the world. As if there was any doubt, that she loved to fly airplanes is a point made again and again in Amelia, a biopic directed by Mira Nair from a script by Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan. Earhart cared about only two things in life, judging by the number of times she says so in the movie: flying and being free. Aside from having Earhart (Hilary Swank) repeatedly reminding everyone that she loves to fly and wants to be free, the movie offers little insight into her character or personality as it follows the last nine years of her life, and her rise to international fame, in a series of flashbacks intercut with scenes from her final, ill-fated flight.

Swank, looking very much like Earhart with her sandy, cropped hair, does a decent enough impersonation, giving Earhart a Katherine Hepburn-esque voice and manner, and an enormous, flashing smile. Amelia pretty quickly failed my wardrobe test -- the clothes worn by Earhart were far more interesting than anything else in the movie, including her unusual marriage to publisher/promoter George Putnam (Richard Gere). Swank, with her lanky frame and long, androgynous face, was born to play Earhart, but this is not likely to be one of her more memorable roles. It's hardly a role at all, but more a recitation of things everybody already knew about Earhart -- She's spunky! She's courageous! She's a tomboy! She loves to fly! Amelia is a thumbnail sketch that never develops into a fully formed work of art.

The plot follows Earhart's trajectory like a highlight reel: she flies across the Atlantic, is wooed by Putnam, resists his marriage proposals, flies solo across the Atlantic, marries Putnam, flies again, etc. Biographical details get tossed in as fragments of dialogue, bullet points of marital discord between Putnam and Earhart. With its odd emphasis on Earhart's marriage, there's a lot of longing and yearning in Amelia -- Putnam romances her with as much desperation and exasperation as the calm Gere can muster, and Earhart romances the skies, yearning to be free and longing to fly. She charms the world while she's at it, although I imagine she was a lot livelier and more charming herself than the movie lets on.

Amelia is, unfortunately, a long movie that feels abbreviated, not because it moves quickly -- it doesn't -- but because it is so insubstantial and rushed, hurrying through the important biographical milestones without cultivating any genuine sense of the woman. The emotion is drained from this story -- allthough Gabriel Yared's strenuously sentimental musical score works overtime to create feeling. That the score has to do *any* work to generate emotion in a movie in which the heroine dies, leaving a grieving husband and bereft world, tells you all you need to know about Amelia.