The best part is Jemaine Clement as Benjamin’s grandiose genre hero, Dr. Ronald Chevalier. Even if you love him on Flight of the Conchords, you’ll be unprepared for his genius—and charisma. Gazing on his young fans, he intones, “So many juvenescent, ripe minds,” looking and sounding under his dark, heavy beard like James Mason’s Captain Nemo on the verge of a titanic belch.
The high-toned Amelia Earhart biopic, Amelia, is told in flashbacks as the famed aviator (Hilary Swank) makes her doomed flight around the world, and it’s all so glancing and superficial that the movie doesn’t seem to have a present tense. It goes by like coming attractions. It is, however, a treasury of bad biopic dialogue. When Earhart passes over giraffes in Africa, she marvels, “Look how free they are … No schedules to keep!”—which is, of course, the problem with her life on Earth, where her alpha-capitalist older husband (Richard Gere) compels her to endorse luggage and cigarettes. When Amelia can’t decide what to do about her adulterous love for Gene Vidal (Gore’s dad, played by Ewan McGregor), he says, “Just ask yourself,” and Amelia says (I’m not making this up), “I’m not sure who that is anymore.”
Swank has certainly transformed herself. Either her teeth have been artificially enlarged to resemble Earhart’s or she has lost too much weight: There’s nothing left but cheekbones and choppers. In her best performances, Swank has a gift for pulling you into her characters’ heads, for making their dreams almost tactile. But she needs a director who can give her something real to play off. Kathryn Bigelow might have lightly fetishized the planes so that you felt in your bones why Earhart had to put herself in the cockpit. Mira Nair, on the other hand, has no point of view that I could detect. This is a movie about a free spirit made by people on a tight schedule.