You’ve all been asking for my review.

I went into it thinking it was going to be a really good film. Then I sat through it thinking, this is an okay film, not a really good film, it has treacly and unreal dialogue here and there. But I was surprised when we got home and I read the 100% negative reviews. I didn’t think it was that bad—I’ve seen worse. The majority of the critics complained that it skimmed the surface of her life—but don’t most bio-pics? And I know first-hand how difficult it is to cram her entire life into two hours.

The opening credits mention it was based on two biographies, both of which I had read many years ago, one of which was written by Mary S. Lovell, whom I had an email correspondence with at the time I was working on the play. She was greatly supportive in our correspondence, and I thanked her in my script and in the production program, and when I saw her name on the screen I remembered that I no longer have those emails. Ah well.

Some differences between the film and my play: In an early draft I was acutely aware that I was skimming the surface of her life, so went back and added scenes with her interacting with her family and friends, to reveal character traits about the woman, to give the audience an idea as to why she did the things she did, what motivated her, what made her tick, etc. The film had none of that. Also, with film, the writers had the freedom to show her aviation adventures, when I didn’t have that luxury. So I built into the script a tool—at the end of each scene, her sister stood downstage-left with a newspaper, reading out loud to their mother the latest headlines of the latest aviation record—then fade to black, then start of next scene. My script also included her early/pre-famous life—her first engagement, then her career as a social worker in Boston, and I included her family throughout. The film had none of that.

Some similarities between the film and my play: We both included the moment where she meets George Putnam for the first time (her eventual husband, who first hired her in 1928 to fly across the Atlantic as the first woman passenger)—the scripts are eerily similar in that scene. We both made sure to include the letter she presented to Putnam on their wedding day: “You must know again my reluctancy to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means so much to me. In our life together I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. I must extract a cruel promise, and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.” And we both included her affair with Gene Vidal and the jealousy of Putnam towards Vidal, and their competition for her safety.

What I liked about the film: The fact that it was made—it brings attention to Amelia again. Hilary Swank’s performance—I thought she did a remarkable job portraying someone we only know from newsreel clips. God knows I studied those newsreel clips over and over, and obviously Hilary did as well, because she has the physical mannerisms down pat. Her voice work is also terrific, she’s truly giving a performance playing another person, not just playing Hilary Swank. The tension in the relationship between Amelia and her navigator on the final flight, Fred Noonan, was well done. He was an alcoholic and she had to deal with that, and the script and performances handled it well. Kudos to Christopher Eccleston for also giving an interesting performance as Noonan. And I’m not a fan of Richard Gere, but he took on the mannerisms and voice work of George Putnam that I thought was admirable. And I can’t leave out Cherry Jones’ performance as Eleanor Roosevelt. As we know from her years of NYC theatre work, Cherry can do anything.

What I didn’t like about the film: It began with her about to become famous for aviation, and neglected to show or mention anything about her life prior to that—she had an interesting and fully-packed life before her flying records. The treacly/unreal dialogue. And the Hollywood moment—I cringed when they added a fictional scene for unnecessary drama—during her first flight across the Atlantic as the first woman to do so—when she was “baggage” in the back of the plane (her words, not mine)—in the film, the door flies open and she almost falls out, and then one of the co-pilots tries to rescue her and he almost falls out, and as she tries to rescue him she almost falls out again—it never happened. What happened on that flight is that to save fuel, she opened the back door and started chucking their luggage out over the ocean to lighten the weight of the plane. But she didn’t almost fall out of the plane. I’m not too distressed over it, though, because it was the only fictional scene in the film.

The final moments of the film I thought were handled well when they used the verbatim recorded/archived transcripts of what she was relaying to the Itasca Coast Guard cutter via radio as she and Noonan were trying to locate Howland Island. However, the film omitted a piece of historical fact—during the plane’s final take-off from Papa, New Guinea, the rear antenna was ripped off the tail of the plane. Why leave that out? It was a crucial problem for that final leg of the flight, along with many other things that converged into disaster. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. The film included most, but didn’t include losing the antenna.

My final thought is that I expected the film to be better than my script, and it was not.


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