Tuesday, November 10, 2009
In an attempt to avoid all manner of flying puns*, the best way to describe Mira Nair’s Amelia is as a mixed bag. This biopic of famed and ill-fated aviatrix Amelia Earhart is bolstered by beautiful production design, gorgeous costumes and a committed performance by Hilary Swank. However the film is oddly inconsistent, with some elements steeped in sentimentality, while others are handled with alluring subtlety. This ultimately makes for a frustrating experience, one that given the fascinating subject matter, feels like a greatly missed opportunity.
That said, Nair does manage to impart the special significance of her historical figure. For many young Australians, the rapturous celebrity of Ms. Earhart may be largely unknown. It is most intriguing to see how she came about that fame — through an entirely manufactured stunt by the wily publishing magnate George P. Putnam (a lacklustre Richard Gere) — and discover a burgeoning publicity machine created to keep her aloft. In fact the film is strongest when dealing with Amelia the commodity; the brand power of which reached the White House and indeed sent her around the world.
Less successful are the film’s romantic overtures. Gere and Swank don’t generate much chemistry, though both actors bring genuine affection to the relationship. But on the other hand Swank and Ewan McGregor’s Gene Vidal capture the frisson of desire in an adulterous subplot that is quite well handled. And yet the ripple effect of another man in her life — Amelia’s alcoholic father — is very heavy-handed at times, while poignant at others.
Such pitching and yawing strips Amelia of its potency. For all its aesthetic beauty, unfortunately this film is too clunky a portrait of the “goddess of light.”