“You can vote? But you are woman?…In Kazakhstan, we say God, man, horse, dog, woman, then rat and then small [crustacean].” Those are Borat’s words when discovering a female head-of-household was allowed to vote, during a door-to-door meet-and-greet alongside congressional candidate, James Broadwater, in a segment for “Da Ali G Show.” Although humorous to think even his country hadn’t caught up with the times, there was an era in which even the United States ignored a woman’s right to vote. It wasn’t until 1920 when the 19th Amendment went into affect. That was right in the middle of when Amelia Earhart was in pursuit of becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, thus breaking down another wall in the crusade for equal rights.
As far back as she could remember, Amelia Earhart always wanted to fly planes. She’d stare up at them from the ground, surrounded by hayfields as the iron giants flew up above. No fear was struck in her, unlike the classic scene from North By Northwest, but more of a serene loneliness. She liked being by herself and being her own person, not having to conform to somebody else’s sense of time and rules. This independency from others continued to dominate Amelia’s form of thought as she ascended through the piloting ranks.
After logging 500 solo hours in the pilot’s seat, Amelia was given a chance in 1928 to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, just one year after Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight. The catch was that all she needed to do to qualify for such a feat was to be flown by two men, while Amelia could only play the role of backseat flier. Though problems emerge with her male crew, Amelia is determined to make it across the ocean come hell or high water and practically wills the team into the record books. She remains unsatisfied with her “achievement,” however, and vows to be the first female in the pilot’s seat to reenact the feat.
Her “historic” flight was set up by publicist George Putnam, who is determined to create a celebrity persona around Amelia after her trip around the Atlantic, regardless of where she sat inside the plane. She’s featured in corporate print ads and speaks at sold out concert halls. Eventually, George becomes enamored with his female subject and asks for her hand in marriage. Amelia, being the independent woman she is wants to pull a Beyonce, but eventually caves. George continues to orchestrate Amelia’s quest for personal glory through the air, but their relationship faces turbulence while grounded, due to the presence of Gene Vidal (author, Gore’s father), who is the director of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Air Commerce.
The funny thing about Amelia is it depicts its title character not as someone who is into pushing for women’s rights, but is much more of a selfish loner only out for number one. George and Gene warn of her image in the media as someone who indulges in literal flights of fancy for her personal gain. Newspapers report she shills herself for endorsements like a real-life Krusty the Clown, purely to lavish more attention on her accomplishments. Sure she encourages a young female flier and starts an organization of female pilots called The Ninety-Nines, but those scenes are glossed over with nary a hint of meaning. The film portrays its star exactly like the media contained within it pretends to condemn.
Rather than focusing on her accomplishments or her courage to push the boundaries and confinements of women’s suffrage, the film is far more concerned with Amelia’s romantic exploits. It seems like a huge misfire given the character and heroics she brings to the table, but it could at least be partially forgiven if her romantic transgressions were in the least bit interesting. The script by Ron Bass (Entrapment) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (Girl, Interrupted) wants you to feel for Amelia’s relationship with both George and Gene, but there’s so little spark from the disinterested Amelia, why should we bother to care when she doesn’t? Due to this oversight, director Mira Nair’s film is largely devoid of any drama, aside from the inevitable final scene of Amelia’s life.
From the outset, it would seem a biopic on the life of Amelia Earhart would be an actor’s dream about a strong, determined and successful Midwestern girl. I’m sure those were the traits that attracted the two-time Oscar-winning Hilary Swank. She brings her typical tour-de-force self to the character, complete with hick-like accent and a stubborn wonderment to it all. Sadly, the material handed to her almost assures her of not reaching the heights she achieved in her two previous statue-winning performances. Much the same can be said of both Richard Gere’s George and Ewan McGregor as Gene. They’re both competently solid, but have next to nothing to work with, especially McGregor, whose character is practically superfluous.
What could have been an important film for audiences, cast and crew alike was instead dumbed down to be both dull and boring. If the film was served as a history lesson of sorts, it could have been made tolerable, but instead was more of a filmic 1930s issue of “Us” magazine. The stars deserved better with the effort they put into it, but the material doesn’t justify the hard work.