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Lame love story clips Amelia’s wings

by Glen Baity

Say you live an interesting life. You’re the first human to set foot on Mars, maybe. Or you solve the world’s energy crisis, or eradicate poverty, or become the first person to travel from New York to Los Angeles in a flying car. You thumb your nose at the doubters on your way into the history books.

Well, don’t do any of that, if you’re considering it. Because one day, they’ll make a movie about your life, and everything interesting about you and your accomplishments will take a back seat.

Why? So we can focus on your boring love life, that’s why.

That’s the lesson one takes away from Amelia, a film that spends two hours with one of American history’s most interesting women and doesn’t leave the viewer with anything worth remembering. It’s quite a feat, but not what this failed prestige picture was reaching for.

The film spans a decade of Amelia Earhart’s (played by Hilary Swank) life, starting with her rise to prominence as the world’s most well-known female aviator and ending with her ill-fated 1937 attempt to circumvent the globe. Anchoring the narrative is her long relationship with her publicist, George Putnam (Richard Gere at his absolute blandest). A sweet courtship slowly — very, very slowly — becomes a troubled marriage, one tested by handsome interloper Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) and Amelia’s inveterate need for freedom.

And lest you forget that Earhart was intoxicated with the desire to be unencumbered, the script by Ronald Bass (Rain Man) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (Girl, Interrupted) reminds you of it, over and over, in the clumsiest ways imaginable. “Look how free they are!” Amelia exclaims, upon surveying a herd of giraffes on the African plains. It’s a moment representative of the problem with so much of this film: Instead of trusting the viewer to infer Earhart’s thoughts, the writers stick a

giant, blinking sign on every scene. It makes for a shallow film, one that constantly tells you its main character is a free spirit without once asking you to consider why. In fairness, the dialogue is pretty terrible all around, drowning every potentially touching moment with gallons of schmaltz left over from Gere’s last Nicholas Sparks adaptation (“We’re going home,” George says at one point. “Where’s that?” Amelia asks. George: “For me, anywhere you are.” Gag).

Swank, a fine actor, plays Earhart with an affected awkwardness that never allows her to rise above this shoddy material. It’s clear she has a passion for the project — she has an executive producer credit as well — but it doesn’t translate into work on par with career highlights like Boys Don’t Cry or Million

Dollar Baby. She has zero chemistry with Gere, a disaster from which the film never recovers.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Director Mira Nair travels the globe without ever capturing a real sense of place in her story. Except for one scene in which Amelia rides past a soup line and has a moment of reflection, you’d never know the bulk of the film takes place during the Great Depression, so intent is the focus on the burgeoning love triangle between Amelia, George and Gene.

Which returns us to the film’s main pitfall: Why focus on this story? Yes, falling in love is the most interesting thing that ever happens to some people. Amelia Earhart, who flew across the Atlantic at a time when most women couldn’t hope for more than a trip to the grocery store, was not one of those people. I understand that every major studio Oscar bid has to have some kind of romantic entanglement, but it weighs heavy on Amelia. It’s a baffling miscalculation, one that prevents this bloated biopic from ever leaving the runway.

To comment on this story, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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