Saturday, October 24, 2009

Soaring cliches

Film critics are like sportswriters; all too often they reach for a peach and grasp a chestnut instead. In their reviews of the new, almost universally panned movie about Amelia Earhart, many of their cliches sound either like third-rate Saint-Exupery or cribbed from 1940s comic books about intrepid birdmen.

"Soar" and its ilk were a sad favorite:

"Mira Nair's unfocused direction never allow[s] Hilary Swank's performance as legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart to soar." -- Lou Lumenick, New York Post

"A film that should have soared . . .Like her subject, the filmmaker gets lost in the clouds." --Betsy Sharkey, L.A. Times

"Amelia goes airborne but never fully soars." -- Claudia Puig, USA Today

"The result is verisimilitude without engagement — a risk-taker's story told entirely without narrative risk — and a movie that consequently never takes flight." -- Bob Mondello, NPR

"A director can do only so much with a script . . . that feels like it’s on the runway, waiting, even when it’s up in the air." -- Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

"Most of all, Earhart wanted to be able to fly free as a bird above the clouds . . ." -- Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter

One writer scored a trifecta:

"Though this traditional story about a defiantly nontraditional woman doesn't always soar, it fits Hilary Swank, its producer/star, like a jumpsuit. . . . Earhart came to love Putnam, nicely played by Gere as the wind beneath her wings." -- Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

(This is just ignorant. In real life aviation jumpsuits, or coveralls as they are properly called, are hardly form-fitting but loose, baggy and grease-stained. What's more, wind does not make wings fly.)


"The onslaught of cliches brings the movie down in flames." -- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

"To say that Amelia never gets off the ground would be an understatement; it barely makes it out of the hangar."— Justin Chang, Variety

Some images were just puzzling:

"Trying to import feeling into the movie's stilted dialogue is like trying to fly a plane blindfolded." -- Sam Adams, A.V. Club

"Amelia Earhart's disappearance is one of the great mysteries of the 20th century. 'Amelia' clips its wings." -- Stephanie Zacharek,

(Wing-clipping keeps chickens from flying, but in aviation it increases an airplane's maneuverability.)

"Amelia is the Mack truck of flight. Heavy and lumbering, it delivers the goods, but there's not an ounce of magic in the thing." -- Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail

(How did Mack trucks get in there? Why not an Airbus or a 747? They lumber, too.)

Some images did seem fresh:

"Swank rides the thematic turbulence like the star she is." -- Ty Burr, Boston Globe

"The next generation of American women grew up in her slipstream." -- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

And there was some sharp wit:

"With any luck this biopic of Amelia Earhart will also vanish without a trace." -- J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

"Amelia Earhart is still missing." -- Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal


  1. For the record, the "wind beneath her wings" is probably a reference to the song "Hero (Wind Beneath My Wings)" by Gladys Knight. The aerodynamic inaccuracy of the image is irrelevant.

    Also for the record, I thought Justin Chang's comment above belongs in your "Sharp Wit" section.

  2. not to mention, wind makes wings fly. If not kites wouldn't get off the ground.

  3. Miss Knight was mistaken when she came up with that meaningless line.

    Wind does make kites fly, because the kites are restrained so that the wind thrusts against them and generates lift. But wind does not make airplane wings fly. Thrust from propellers or jet engines causes wings to move through otherwise stationary air and experience lift.

    Mr. Chang's line, I am afraid, is an old one among pilots.