Watching Amelia, a biopic of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, is like spending two hours reading a Wikipedia entry on the title character.
With two biographies as source material, the adaptation by screenwriters Anna Hamilton Phelan and Ron Bass tries to cram in too many facets of a 10-year period in Amelia Earhart's life. This results in a film that jumps from scene to scene without flow like bullet points on a fact-sheet.
The film starts with an eager but green Earhart (Hilary Swank, who is also an executive producer on the film) meeting New York publisher and future husband George Putman (Richard Gere, cast once again opposite a much younger woman). He makes her famous as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Over the next decade, we see her rise to greater heights both literally and figuratively, up until that fatal final flight where she and navigator Fred Noonan (a terrific Christopher Eccelston) disappear over the Pacific Ocean, never to be seen or heard from again.
The source material is provided by author Susan Butler's East to the Dawn and Mary Lovell's The Sound of Wings. The latter focuses on Earhart's relationship with Putman, who crafted her image and helped finance her flights by making her into a promotional machine, serving up endorsements, commercials and public appearances. East to the Dawn documents her friendship with first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her affair with Gene Vidal, an aviator and businessman.
Unfortunately for the film, not much is explored in Earhart's relationship with Roosevelt. The former First Lady, played wonderfully by Cherry Jones, is almost reduced to a cameo. Meanwhile, Earhart's affair with Vidal (an underused Ewan McGregor) is practically glossed over. Nothing is shown on screen and save for a few conversations and jealous looks, the whole thing is handled with such trepidation, it's as if the filmmakers did not want to offend those historians still skeptical that this love affair actually occurred. Thus, a potentially exciting on-screen love triangle never has the chance to develop. It's a shame the opportunity was wasted.
The most baffling plot point is Earhart's relationship with a young female aviator and fan, Elinor Smith (Mia Wasikowska), whose own place in aviation history is also secured by the flying records she broke. (Hey, look her up on Wikipedia why don't you?)
Seventeen-year-old Smith meets her idol in a hotel room the day after Earhart first sleeps with Putman. Later.....(to read more, go to California Literary Review).