Let's face it, most biopics are a predictable bore. They rise or fall on the charisma of their leads — who are out trolling for Oscars — and inevitably follow a linear path of triumphs and setbacks. Childhood trauma + substance abuse = genius is the preferred approach. Somewhere along the line, a screenwriter decided to shake up the A-to-Z formula and kick things off at a defining life moment (typically the brink of failure or success) then, for contrast, flashed back to other important moments in the celeb's life story.
Add Mira Nair's big-screen Amelia to the list, a handsome, dull and utterly banal biography that is thankfully devoid of substance abuse. Well, mostly. While the world-famous aviatrix and feminist icon avoided the devil's brew, screenwriter Ron Bass and pals still manage to insert a trio of supporting characters who can't lay off the liquor. Although, to be fair, Amelia's dear old drunken dad is unseen, relegated to a fiery monologue.
Their shallow, simple-minded script works overtime on its period lingo while skipping such trivialities as character, drama, thematic focus or historic context. Even its Depression-era setting is reduced to car window shots of artfully composed bread lines while Amelia pines, "Why have I been so lucky?" Suffering acknowledged. Let's move on.
Nair falls down here as she did in Vanity Fair, working in a genre for which she has no ear or eye. Her best work, Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala, and Monsoon Wedding, benefited from her embrace of cultural frictions and an instinct for how outsiders eventually learn to integrate with others. She plays it stiff here, safe and clichéd —which Earhart was anything but — focusing on her heroine's yo-yoing affections and smiley gumption. Even Amelia's notorious friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt is reduced to grinning caricature.
While it's nice to see Hilary Swank finally smile, she has zero chemistry with both Richard Gere and Ewan MacGregor — which is no small feat. Amelia is old-school Hollywood in that musty, detached way that impresses no one and ultimately does a disservice to the person it so dutifully strains to deify.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].