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"Amelia" poster

a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Hilary Swank and Richard Gere are just right as the romantic leads in the new biopic about aviatrix Amelia Earhart. If the film had been made in the early 60s, chances are the stars would have been Doris Day and Cary Grant ("That Touch of Mink"). A decade or so earlier, the smart money would have been on June Allison and James Stewart ("The Stratton Story"). Both Ms. Day and Ms. Allison could have passed well as the spunky, freckled-faced Earhart who, with her navigator, Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) vanished over the Pacific July 2, 1937.

But neither Day nor Allison would have done Earhart as well as the young woman currently batting two-for-two at the Oscars: the talented Ms. Swank. ("The Black Dahlia" remake, "Iron Jawed Angels" HBO). Swank not only brings even more moxie to the Amelia character, but, with her right-on Amelia Cut, a more acceptable resemblance of the person who almost circumnavigated the Earth in her Lockheed L-10 E Electra.

"Amelia" is set, for the most part, in the 20s and 30s of the last century. Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas in 1897. Her maternal grand parents were well-to-do in the Atchison community and her father, for a time, was a Kansas City lawyer. Although her dad drank heavily and didn't succeed, there was enough wealth in the family for Earhart to be well enough educated and connected to pursue a remarkable career path for any young woman of her time.

I remember family members talking about the great and tragic Amelia Earhart when I was just barely old enough to understand the English language. But none of them discussed the public relations part of Ms. Earhart's fame. Director Mia Nair, with screenwriters Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan, makes the PR of "Amelia" plain.

As Earhart was rising to fame as a female pilot, she represented the early business expansion of air passenger service, urged other women to take up flying and rubbed elbows with the likes of Gore Vidal's father, Gene Vidal and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Amelia also lectured and wrote essays, newspaper columns and books. Most of the media efforts were orchestrated by the man she would finally marry, publisher George Putnam (Gere).

Hilary Swank and Richard Gere

Hilary Swank, Richard Gere and Christopher Eccleston

The early going of "Amelia" relates the show biz aspect of American society, underscoring just how well mass media manipulation was already in force before World War II.

An example today of such PR would be an attractive, ambitious woman who...say...has run for a major public office or been a controversial governor of a state or polemic television figure and has a book coming out next month she'll soon promote on Oprah. I can't think of anyone in particular who would fit this description, but you get the idea how "Amelia" tells its story...other than just the aviation part of it.

Swank and Gere, as well as Ewan McGregor, who plays Gore Vidal's dad in the film, intone convincing speaking patterns and vocal sonorities of upscale people of the 20s and 30s. It was a way of speaking anyone can perceive by hearing dialogue from movies of that day, as well as vintage broadcasts of speeches, radio drama and newscasts.

Swank does fine work with the title role and Gere is subdued but effective as Putnam. McGregor's part is a small one. His ability to attract a female audience, as well as Gere's, may be why he's along for his brief appearance in the film as the man with whom Amelia has a dalliance while married to Putnam. The actual indiscretion is in the script for an effective display of jealous heat due to lovers' triangulation.

Richard Gere Hilary Swank

Richard Gere

Hilary Swank

"Amelia" is the standard, polished, spic and span Hollywood biopic, which has to maintain an audience without benefit of suspense.

We know how the story ends, but the film does make an important point, especially for young women and girls, about the power and importance of perseverance, as well as the human spirit and individuality. I recommend, especially, moms and dads take their daughters to see it. It's rated PG---sexuality is implied, not depicted and coarse language is, uniquely, at an extreme minimum.

Hilary and her mom on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hilary and her mom

Hilary Swank blew me away in her first Oscar-winning role as a butchy lesbian with two names, Brandon and Teena, in "Boys Don't Cry." Her second Oscar came for doing Maggie Fitzgerald, the female boxer, in "Million Dollar Baby." Now, it only seems natural for her to be Amelia Earhart. BTW, all three of these Swank-played characters---two of them from real life---die young in their respective films.

I'd venture a guess that if Swank had been born around 1900 (not 1974) she might've have been competing against Earhart for all those firsts in the early days of American aviation instead of acting such strong, memorable females characters in the movies.

History says Amelia and her younger sister, Pidge, were influenced by their mother, Amy. Amy wasn't upset her girls were tomboys way back when in northeastern Kansas. In that regard, there may be a connection between Amy Earhart and Judy Swank, Hilary's mom.

"Amelia" official site.

Opens wide Friday 10/23, in Tulsa at the
Cinemark and the AMC Southroads 20.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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