Amelia handsome but superficial

Variety spots an odd return on the radar, interrogates it with IFF, and sends Mira Nair’s Amelia biopic crashing to earth with a salvo of well-aimed PAC3s.

To say that “Amelia” never gets off the ground would be an understatement; it barely makes it out of the hangar. Handsomely mounted yet dismayingly superficial, Mira Nair’s film offers snazzy aerial photography and inspirational platitudes in lieu of insight into Amelia Earhart’s storied life and high-flying career.

…the character’s passion hasn’t been sufficiently dramatized (this Amelia likes to fly planes because the script says so), and every effort to transform Swank — the close-cropped blonde hair, the ’30s costumes designed by Kasia Walicka Maimone, the actress’ wobbly Kansas accent — ends up feeling like one fussy affectation on top of another.

Similarly, Nair, who has made fine films (“Monsoon Wedding,” “The Namesake”) that stayed close to her Indian roots, seems completely beholden to biopic formulas here. Slathered in banal voiceover narration and Gabriel Yared’s hyperactive score, the pic gets a lot of mileage out of Stuart Dryburgh’s f/x-enhanced aerial lensing (largely captured over South Africa). But the footage is postcard-pretty without being psychologically revealing; Imax documentaries and theme-park attractions offer comparable pleasures at a fraction of the length. Intermittent black-and-white newsreel footage of Earhart adds some interest but also feels like a nervous bid for authenticity.

— Chang, Justin.  “Amelia review.”  Variety, 18 October 2009.

Ouch.  This is more or less what I feared would happen after seeing the trailer last month.

Hollywood loves to be perverse and turn complex stories and personas into simple paint-by-numbers, broad-brush portraits; it also loves to do the reverse and take simple, uncomplicated tales/people and inject a lot of complexity and ambiguity that wasn’t actually there.  Most biopics set out very transparently to make you love or hate their subject.  Very rarely do they ever match a complex personality (who could be simultaneously hero and cad) with an equally nuanced portrayal, leaving it up to the viewer to decide.

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