The viewer doesn’t walk away feeling “dumbed down.” The relationships are strong and significant. The romances are carefully understated, especially the sexuality. Even an affair is not explicit; rather, sort of an extension of the passion of the individuals. Enthusiastic embrace in the elevator, fade to the next morning. Not even one foot still on the bedroom floor.
And, of course, you want to like Amelia Earhart. Hilary Swank plays the part with a tomboyish charm, exuding graceful athleticism. She’s a pioneer woman in a man’s world, but she advances with quiet insistence, evident talent, and knowledgeable sponsors. Yes, in a way, she’s an icon for feminism, but the ability to sit in an airplane cockpit for long periods shouldn’t necessarily qualify for superhero nomination. The publicity and celebrity status is a little puzzling, except that she was one who pushed the envelope of flying solo “for a woman” — but if it has to be qualified in that way, how is it truly feminist?
True, there was real danger assumed because of the limited technology available. Indeed, her demise was apparently due to a perfect storm of faulty equipment: headphones didn’t work, battery was down on the radio signal, Morse code transmitter discarded to lighten the load — oh, and maybe the navigator was hung over? But really, there was no real purpose served by making the effort, anyway, even if it were to succeed.
The world in 1937 had more important things to worry about, like Hitler’s rise to power, and Japan’s invasion of China, and a worldwide Depression. We just never hear about any of that inconvenient stuff, except one fleeting shot of a soup line, from the limo on the way to the big press conference at a swanky hotel.
In the end, the public’s fascination with Amelia Earhart remains an enigma, even as she does. Disappearing at age 40, in the midst of a more innocent age, apparently made her as mysteriously iconic as a Marilyn Monroe, or a James Dean. There is a brief mention of rivalry with other women pilots, which might have been more interesting to develop than the rather meaningless affair that didn’t seem to really affect anything. Richard Gere, as her promoter then husband, and Ewan McGregor, as her occasional lover, are always solid performers. But the arm’s length presentation makes the viewer feel the distance from the characters, as well.
“Amelia” is pleasant enough. But not great.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.