After a series of quickly forgotten films released in the past few years, Mira Nair is back with a film that has rewards bait written all over it, the Amelia Earhart biopic “Amelia.” The film, told in flashback from the infamously last flight of the most famous female aviator, focuses on Earhart’s (Hilary Swank) relationship with her husband, the publishing mogul George Putnam (Richard Gere) and her friend and possibly illicit lover Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). The reviews, though, make it seem as though Nair may not have gotten herself out of this rut of overlooked films.
Keith Uhlich, in Time Out New York complains that “Earhart’s life is reduced to a series of solemnized wide-screen tableaux populated by locale-specific extras acting as starstruck filler. There’s nothing more boring than a life embalmed with halfhearted Hollywood bombast, which only makes the film’s fleeting pleasures stand out all the more.” In Screen, Brent Simon agrees, saying, “Replete with newspaper headline montages that frequently explain the action that has just taken place in the preceding scene, Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan’s screenplay takes an extraordinary life of adventure and celebrity and drains it of excitement. There are no nuances to Earhart’s character, no hint that she might have been complicit in the marketing schemes dreamed up by George.”
Lisa Schwarzbaum, in Entertainment Weekly, joins the chorus of frustrated reviewers, saying “Amelia is a frustratingly old-school, Hollywood-style, inspirational biopic about Amelia Earhart that doesn’t trust a viewer’s independent assessment of the famous woman pictured on the screen. The mystery we ought to be paying attention to is: What really happened on the legendary American aviator’s final, fatal flight in 1937? But the question audiences are left with is this: How could so tradition-busting a role model have resulted in so square, stiff, and earthbound a movie? Why present such a modern woman in such a fusty format? Dressed for the title role in a wardrobe of jumpsuits, leather jackets, scarves, and slinky evening wear dashing enough to stop air traffic, Hilary Swank’s Earhart doesn’t so much talk as make stump speeches even when she’s at her own breakfast table.”
In Variety, Justin Chang is also disappointed: “To say that ‘Amelia’ never gets off the ground would be an understatement; it barely makes it out of the hangar. Handsomely mounted yet dismayingly superficial, Mira Nair’s film offers snazzy aerial photography and inspirational platitudes in lieu of insight into Amelia Earhart’s storied life and high-flying career. Prestigious packaging, led by Hilary Swank’s gussied-up performance as the iconic aviatrix, portends friendly commercial skies for the Fox Searchlight release, at least initially.”
Ray Bennett, in The Hollywood Reporter, in a generally positive review, predicts some potential markets for the film. He predicts, “The classically structured bio will appeal to grown-ups, history buffs and lovers of aeronautics, but in showing how the flier was one of the most lauded celebrities of her time, it also might appeal to youngsters. Smart marketing will expose the film to students and educators, and Swank’s sparkling portrayal could help attract younger women.”