Friday, October 23, 2009

Movie Review: Amelia, Even Stunt Freckles* Couldn't Save It

I don't know about you, but my spouse and I always shake hands before one of us gets on a flight. That's not weird or suspect at all, I don't know what you're talking about. We totally have intercourse all the time.

I like lady adventurers, the Great Depression, airplanes and Ewan McGregor. So why didn't I like Amelia, which opens tonight (and why aren't you going to like it)? Um, maybe because it was a disjointed characterless character piece with more newsreel footage than Citizen Kane. After a while it felt like a death march through a badly narrated soap opera with cheesy sets, cheesy dialogue and one really shiny leather jumpsuit. As a matter of fact, the Great Depression has never looked so neat and well-dressed. Amelia makes Annie look gritty.

Amelia Earhart was at one time the most famous women in America. She was everywhere and that pioneer image of her has been sustained since her disappearance in 1937, and rightfully so. Only a handful of films have been made about Earhart, but millions have found themselves enamored by both her achievements and the mystery surrounding her final flight. She was also pretty cool and flying was an extreme sport at the time. An open marriage, a short wild haircut, creator of a ladies line of active wear, and the first person to equal the feats of Lindbergh, Earhart clearly rocked. This latest film by Monsoon Wedding director, Mira Nair, does little to delve into Earhart's real person, especially with Hillary "Oscar Bait" Swank in the title role, and stays firmly in the realm of personae. From multiple key scenes that feel cut short, to the complete lack of chemistry between Swank and Richard Gere, Amelia is simply a great opportunity lost. It also includes a scene where this feminist hero confesses that she wears pants because she hates her legs. Ugh.

I never thought I would see that many takeoffs in one film. Oddly enough, I can't remember any shots of a plane landing...ooooh, how telling. The cinematography is nice, I guess. It looks way more expensive than the film's $40M price tag, but glorious vistas literally whizzing by is unbelievably boring and has absolutely no texture or depth of this director's previous efforts. It felt sanitized, emotionally and visually. This is the same Mira Nair that brought us Salaam Bombay!?

Pay no attention to the right side of the screen.

There is no tension anywhere in the film. It's absent when she beings a relationship with her manager and publicist, George Putnam (Gere). It's minuscule as she struggles between insane media demands he's orchestrated and her desire to physically fly away from it all. And how in the world can searching in vain for a 2 mile wide island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the fuel gauge reading "E" be boring? Amelia also does little to inform us of the difficulties of flying at the time. I mean, we live in an era when two pilots can get into a heated discussion and miss an airport by 150 miles without even noticing. Planes didn't always fly themselves.***

Swank's Earhart stoically plays it for the camera until the very end with only brief glimpses of her character's unmediated self. There is one scene when Amelia and George talk over a radio thousands of miles apart the night before she begins the most dangerous leg of her around the world journey that touches on real emotion, but it's too little too late. Oh, did I tell you about the joyride she takes old Eleanor Roosevelt on after a dinner party. It was smashing, darling. From up there you can't smell all the hobos in the soup lines.

And then, there's Swank's voice. Yeah, she's trying that old Hollywood accent, somewhere between Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. Maybe not that bad, but it's still really annoying. Photos and footage of Earhart showed a natural pleasant woman, a little gap in her front teeth, but there was a definitely androgynous sex appeal there - yet another mystery to which we'll never know the answer. Remember that pants thing I ugh-ed about earlier. Earhart makes a remark about a beautiful woman's equally beautiful legs in front of her soon to be lover, Gene Vidal (McGregor), and laments that her legs are ugly. Gene insists her legs must be lovely and wonders allowed if that is the reason she wears pants all the time. She admits it is and says something about wanting to be considered more than just one of the boys. So, no, looking at that hot lady wasn't a hint about Amelia's possible bisexuality or anything remotely provocative, it was about wearing pants to hide sub par gams and getting some that is not from your old and exploitative husband. Double ugh. Also, as far as chemistry goes between Swank and McGregor, I can't really comment because I didn't even notice that she was there when he was on the screen. Swoon.**

(I'm only giving it 2 for two reasons - some cool planes and Ewan.)

111 mins
Dir.: Mira Nair
Writ.: Ron Bass (Stepmom), Ann Hamilton Phelan (Girl, Interrupted)
Starring: see above
Rated PG for smooching, some mature themes maybe, blatant over-freckling of non freckled actor and smoking.

*Oh, and they put fake freckles on Hillary Swank (too many of them) and I consider that offensive. It's an insult to qualified freckled actors everywhere. I think you know where I'm going with this line of thinking.

**Next week - The Men Who Stare at Goats review. Unfortunately it featured a swoonless Ewan sporting a robotic American accent. Sigh.

*** 10/29/09 Update: OK, they were on their laptops checking out the new scheduling system at work. So lame. And they so have their licenses revoked.