An Adventurer Takes Flight, Blinding Smile and All





Amelia Earhart, the American aviator who disappeared somewhere over the Pacific in 1937 while trying to become the first woman to fly around the globe, didn’t wear bodices, as far as I can tell from the new biographical movie starring Hilary Swank. If Earhart had, it’s a good bet that Richard Gere, who plays her sensitive, supportive, quietly suffering husband, George Palmer Putnam (G. P.), would have ripped or, rather, politely removed an unmentionable or two amid the civilized yearning and the surging, swelling music.

Romance is in the air in “Amelia,” or at least in the score, which works hard to inject some emotional coloring into the proceedings. The music screams (sobs) 1940s big-screen melodramatic excess and beautiful suffering.

Alas, excesses of any pleasurable kind are absent from this exasperatingly dull production. The director Mira Nair, whose only qualification appears to be that she’s a woman who has made others films about and with women (“Mississippi Masala,” “Vanity Fair”), keeps a tidy screen — it’s all very neat and carefully scrubbed. I don’t recall a single dented automobile or a fissure of real feeling etched into a face. Bathed in golden light, Amelia and G. P. are as pretty as a framed picture and as inert.

Earhart became a celebrity during her two decades in the air, setting records and grabbing headlines. In 1928 she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. She wasn’t allowed to pilot the plane, forced instead to watch the world pass by from the rear. (“I was just baggage.”) Four years later she took the controls to become the first woman to fly solo across the pond. She then tried to circle the globe: “Like previous flights, I am undertaking this one solely because I want to, and because I feel that women now and then have to do things to show what women can do.” And then there was this: “I am going for the fun. Can you think of a better reason?”

Well, no, I can’t, though fun — along with nonpharmaceutical kicks and just the pleasures that come with being alive — doesn’t often factor into recent film biographies, especially of stars, perhaps because filmmakers think we need tears to wash down the achievements.

No triumph goes unpunished in “Ray” or “Walk the Line.” An American film that does suggest that bliss can figure in remarkable lives is “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’s fractured portrait of Bob Dylan, though even here the highest highs are in the filmmaking itself. Gus Van Sant’s “Milk,” about the gay-rights advocate Harvey Milk, conveys its subject’s joy, but that exuberance is the beatific prelude to martyrdom...

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