Mira Nair’s Amelia Releases Today

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Finally! The day I’ve been waiting for. TGIAED. Thank God It’s Amelia Earhart Day. Today marks the release of Mira Nair’s Amelia, a biopic on the record-breaking aviatrix herself. And the reviews are…not so great. (Washington Post calls it “historically safe and cinematically dull.”) Roger Ebert implies that this is because Earhart herself was a bit…boring.

That’s the trouble with Amelia Earhart’s life, seen strictly as movie material. What we already know is what we get. To repeat: She was strong, brave and true, she gained recognition for woman flyers, and she looked fabulous in a flight suit. She flew the Atlantic solo, she disappeared in the Pacific, she died too young, and there was no scandal or even an indiscretion. She didn’t even smoke, although Luckys wanted her for an endorsement.

But who cares if she was a prude? It’s Amelia Earhart, the girl crush from my childhood. The flying femme phantom of my fantasies! And Mira Nair! The one who made Denzel famous in Mississippi Masala, brought us Monsoon Wedding and finally gave Kal Penn a serious role in* The Namesake*. Okay, I’ll stop with the hyperbole.

Wondering if there’s any masala in a film about the quintessential American heroine? Well, there’s always some of the garam variety. But according to this review, it doesn’t save the film:

With material like this, what’s a director to do? And not just any director, but the woman recently responsible for a wonderful film called “The Namesake,” and, before it, the richly textured canvas of “Salaam Bombay!” (During the course of that final flight, Amelia and her remarkably dislikable navigator, Fred Noonan, make a refueling stop in Calcutta, which is as richly textured as a pasteboard background in a 1930s B movie.)

Those were Indian films, though, produced mostly on Ms. Nair’s home turf. Given the nature of this one, a star vehicle with an American theme, she may well have been compelled to shoot the script as it was written.

[Link.]

Anyways, if any of you mutineers watches the film this weekend, be sure to let me know in the comments section how you liked it. No spoilers, please! Not that there are any. Because we all know that in the end Amelia lives. At least that’s what my mommy always told me.

[Photo credit.]

Related Posts: Mira Nair at work on ‘The Namesake,’ Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair,

48 thoughts on “Mira Nair’s Amelia Releases Today

  1. After reading the reviews, I think most of us will stay home along with the rest of the general public.

    Yeah yeah, I know we should make up our own minds and not let the critical commuinty dictate what we see. But really, there is a limit.

    And it doesn’t make me happy to write this.

  2. I am a Mira Nair partisan — though I would admit that her films dealing more explicitly with desi themes are more memorable than some of the others.

    I haven’t seen “Amelia” yet, though I’m hoping to soon, whatever the reviews might say. One thing that bugged me in Mahnola Dargis’ review in the NYT was this sentence:

    The director Mira Nair, whose only qualification appears to be that she’s a woman who has made others films about and with women (“Mississippi Masala,” “Vanity Fair”), keeps a tidy screen — it’s all very neat and carefully scrubbed.

    Wait, what qualification does she need? A caucasian director wouldn’t be called out on her “qualification” to do a film, so why is Nair? At any rate, Dargis’s objections to Nair’s film isn’t that it’s not faithful to the life of Amelia Earheart, but that it’s too faithful, and therefore somewhat plodding.

    I had some similar irritation — though more the phenomenon of reviewers focusing on her Indianness was more pronounced then — after “Vanity Fair” came out.

  3. There is an Amelia Earhart character in the recent comedy ‘A Night at the Museum 2′ played by Amy Adams. Even allowing for the comic license, she’s not the least bit boring. I guess its what the actor and director choose to do with the material, I guess.

  4. “whose only qualification”….

    What a jerk! Salaam Bombay is one of my favorite films of all time, Monsoon Wedding was great, Mississippi Masala was… um, pretty ok (sorry if you liked it, but that actress drove me bonkers!) The Namesake was a pretty good movie too, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the story as written by the author in the first place… but still…

    I think Mira Nair has quite a many qualifications. Stupid jerks need to stop equating crappy mainstream Hollywood to the world.

  5. Lets not forget that Mira Nair for all the goodness of The Namesake and Monsoon Wedding also made the execrable but unintentionally comedic Kama Sutra, which amounted to little more than a soft porn movie in which British actors of Indian descent speak English in ancient India with Apu accents and frolic naked whilst twittering about tantric sexuality.

  6. The director Mira Nair, whose only qualification appears to be that she’s a woman who has made others films about and with women (“Mississippi Masala,” “Vanity Fair”), keeps a tidy screen — it’s all very neat and carefully scrubbed. Wait, what *qualification* does she need? A caucasian director wouldn’t be called out on her “qualification” to do a film, so why is Nair? At any rate, Dargis’s objections to Nair’s film isn’t that it’s not faithful to the life of Amelia Earheart, but that it’s *too* faithful, and therefore somewhat plodding.

    It’s standard crit-speak and a cuacasian director does get called out on his/her qualification. Nothing in XYZ’s oeuvre suggests he/she can handle this subject … meaningful pause … proceed to trash or praise the film.

  7. The movie seems to have drawn a rough press, almost universally panned. I have no idea what it is like, since the Caucasian hates to be patronised. Shekhar Kapoor has still not been forgiven for his Elizabeth – the total blackout of his name in any context is too blatant to be ignored. This one too may be a case of the same. The Western establishment raises Eastern sepoys and instills in them the fury of the convert, and lets them loose on their own. So Mira Nair is OK as long as she makes movies about India and Indians. When she stepped back a little and made Namesake, that shows an Indian family making it in the US, it made the establishment sit up, but the perturbation was quelled quickly and the movie was ignored by the awards mafia. Now with Amelia Mira has travelled all the way and is making a movie about a fairly well known female icon of modern adventure. How dare she? Maybe she should have instead made a movie about Bessie Coleman the first African American to become a licensed airplane pilot,[1] and the first American of any race or gender to hold an international pilot license. Bessie had to go to France to learn to fly since no school in the US would admit her – aaah! France and the French, again!

  8. Amardeep, Just read Dargis’s review and I thought it was a fair one. She rightly has a problem with biopic by numbers. She has given good and bad biopic examples.

    … though fun — along with nonpharmaceutical kicks and just the pleasures that come with being alive — doesn’t often factor into recent film biographies, especially of stars, perhaps because filmmakers think we need tears to wash down the achievements. No triumph goes unpunished in “Ray” or “Walk the Line.” An American film that does suggest that bliss can figure in remarkable lives is “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’s fractured portrait of Bob Dylan, though even here the highest highs are in the filmmaking itself. Gus Van Sant’s “Milk,” about the gay-rights advocate Harvey Milk, conveys its subject’s joy, but that exuberance is the beatific prelude to martyrdom.

    Dargis’s objections to Nair’s film isn’t that it’s not faithful to the life of Amelia Earheart, but that it’s too faithful, and therefore somewhat plodding. She’s blaming it for its lack of personality.

    Instead of digging deep into the complexities of her character (as Mr. Haynes does with Mr. Dylan), the filmmakers cram Earhart’s life — or at least its presumptive highlights — into a biographical template. In this mold, familiar from many Hollywood and Hollywood-inspired movies, the thickness of life is thinned until it’s as manageable and as easy to shoot and to sell as a bulleted checklist.

    She found the dialogue risible, a sentiment echoed by many reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes (17% fresh, ouch).

  9. Wait, what *qualification* does she need? A caucasian director wouldn’t be called out on her “qualification” to do a film, so why is Nair?

    oh enough of the racebaiting. i left a comment on vij’s blog as well. nair is a navelgazer. she takes a mohair paintbrush to paint her canvas. that’s her claim to fame. the little quirks and spatters of paint. this story called for breadth. amelia’s story is legend and speaks of the unique american derring-do, a spirit borne of Big Land. nair’s an urban rat, best dredging the gullies for story. if nair was picked for htis because she’s a woman, or to make it a ‘yes we can’ statement, it was a stupid decision based on ideology.

  10. I haven’t seen Amelia Earhart by Mira Nair yet – don’t know if I will or not. Still, when I heard she was making it, and that it was coming out, I did ask myself Why? Is there some shortage of interesting themes? Has the Earhart life not already been made into movies several times over? (I had to research this – there are actually at least 4 previous movies on her, over the period 1943-present, and she ).

    While the oblique references to her ethnic origin by movie critics is certainly reprehensible, one can certainly ask why a particular director undertakes a particular work in a review. Given Mira Nair’s pattern of earlier work, the question of why she did this movie is certainly relevant, and the only thing ‘wrong’ with the way Dargis asked it was that it was phrased in too impolitic a way, and perhaps conveyed more her lack of command over language and style than anything else. Also, critics aren’t paid to just gush over a movie – that’s the paid publicist’s job!

  11. Shekhar Kapoor has still not been forgiven for his Elizabeth – the total blackout of his name in any context is too blatant to be ignored

    Sorry, but this is utter nonsense. Elizabeth was critically acclaimed and commercially succesful, so much so that he made a sequel. I hate it when people mindlessly play the race card for no reason, especially when their judgments are so off the scale wrong.

  12. I have no idea what it is like, since the Caucasian hates to be patronised

    ‘the Caucasian’ — so all white people are one singular amorphous mass called ‘The Caucasian’? What a stinking pile of mindless racial drivel.

  13. Sorry, but this is utter nonsense.

    That’s nonsense! Kapoor continues to be ignored, by Hollywood. Because he won’t Stand the _ in Line.

  14. I had some similar irritation — though more the phenomenon of reviewers focusing on her Indianness was more pronounced then — after “Vanity Fair” came out.

    There’s a lot to respond to in the entire quote – and, knowing me, I probably will later when I’m able to – but to address this for now: what was criticized was that Nair’s sensibility was at odds with the source material, and her movies tend to be more successful when she deals with subject matter that accompanies her sensibility more comfortably. I don’t think it’s such an unreasonable criticism.

  15. Kapur is in theaters right now. He and other directors (some of them Hollywood directors) have made an omnibus collection of short films called “New York, I Love You”. One of the actors in Kapur’s piece is Shia Labeouf, who is Hollywood’s fastest rising young star. Imagine that, a Hollywood star working with Shekhar Kapur? And he’s working with a screenplay written by the late Anthony Minghella, who was one of Hollywood’s most successful producers and an Oscar-winning writer and director.

    So yeah, there’s Hollywood turning his back on him.

    And Indians are also Caucasians, although they may not be white.

    Really, quit while you’re behind. I can’t take any more humor.

  16. She didn’t even smoke, although Luckys wanted her for an endorsement…she was a prude?

    Amelia was a real desi.

  17. Indians are Caucasians by genetic science ? LOL…. whatever will science think of next ?

  18. 16% over at Rotten tomatoes.

    Better Hilary Swank movie

    Amelia or The New Karate Kid?

  19. Given Mira Nair’s pattern of earlier work, the question of why she did this movie is certainly relevant, and the only thing ‘wrong’ with the way Dargis asked it was that it was phrased in too impolitic a way, and perhaps conveyed more her lack of command over language and style than anything else.

    Contrarian, you’re still conceding the point that there’s something a bit unfair about that sentence. My objection was to the invocation of “qualification” in her review at all. IMHO The only qualification one needs to make a good film is creative vision.

    I don’t take issue with the review as a whole, not having seen the film yet.

  20. There’s a lot to respond to in the entire quote – and, knowing me, I probably will later when I’m able to – but to address this for now: what was criticized was that Nair’s sensibility was at odds with the source material,

    You’re speaking of “Vanity Fair,” no?

    I felt pretty strongly at the time that reviewers who thought she had added to much “masala” to Thackeray’s text hadn’t actually read Thackeray’s text. (In fact, I would imagine this is true of most reviewers who review films based on novels — they read some blurbs and summaries, but most reviewers haven’t done more than that.)

    Most of the “desi” material Nair used in “Vanity Fair” had a justification in the original novel, including especially the famous “green chillie” scene. The only major insertion she made was to end the story in India, and I thought she had decent reasons for it. Here is the post I wrote voicing my grumbles over Nair’s treatment after “Vanity Fair,” if anyone is interested.

  21. Mira Nair! The one who made Denzel famous in Mississippi Masala, brought us Monsoon Wedding and finally gave Kal Penn a serious role in* The Namesake*.–PhillyGirl

    Truth be told, Denzel Washington was already famous…he won an Oscar in “Glory” before he made Mississippi Masala. If anything, Mira Nair made Denzel a romantic lead/sex symbol in “Mississippi Masala.”

  22. Shekhar Kapoor has still not been forgiven for his Elizabeth – the total blackout of his name in any context is too blatant to be ignored

    Jyotsana: The first Elizabeth was very well received by the Academy Awards & BAFTA. People don’t say “Kapur’s Elizabeth” because I think you have to have a string of popular movies that appeal to the same set of moviegoers from the same director for that to work from a marketing perspective. For example those people who look fwd to gangster movies are drawn by films pitched as “Scorsese movies”. Shyamalan was getting top billing (though his star is falling) for his movies (e.g. Shyamalan’s Village) because paranormal/trick endings have a ready made audience and it pays to market movies this way. Mira Nair got alot of praise for her HBO character study (Hysterical Blindness) of two white working class women (Uma Thurman got a Golden Globe for her performance in it), I don’t think this is a case of desis being reprimanded for reaching beyond their presupposed cultural grasp

  23. Moderately enjoyed the film, but didn’t get to see the ending. Just as the plane appears to be about to crash into the water, the film stopped and we viewers were left with a free pass because the theatre had difficulty getting it started again. I won’t go back to see it because of course I know how it ends. It did stink, though, sitting that long and not seeing the end.

  24. She didn’t even smoke, although Luckys wanted her for an endorsement…she was a prude?

    No, she was a strong and unconventional woman. See her prenup.

  25. People don’t say “Kapur’s Elizabeth” because…

    See, the pooh-bahs don’t say it, that’s it. It’s hard to accept an outsider making movies about your icons. The because and all that is mere rationalisation; superfluous.

  26. See, the pooh-bahs don’t say it, that’s it. It’s hard to accept an outsider making movies about your icons. The because and all that is mere rationalisation; superfluous.

    do you watch judd apatow’s “knocked up” or just knocked up? do you watch roland emmerich’s 2012 or just 2012? do you watch todd phillips’ hangover or just hangover? do you watch james mangold’s “walk the line” or just walk the line? do you watch taylor hackford’s “ray” or just ray?

    dont have such an inferiority complex to look for insults when there are none. and don’t worry, i always talk about kapur’s “elizabeth the golden age”, though. shouldn’t that make you happy?

  27. That’s nonsense! Kapoor continues to be ignored, by Hollywood. Because he won’t Stand the _ in Line

    What utter, utter specious nonsense. Others have already shown your argument up. The best policy is to stop digging when you find yourself in a hole.

  28. “I felt pretty strongly at the time that reviewers who thought she had added to much “masala” to Thackeray’s text hadn’t actually read Thackeray’s text. (In fact, I would imagine this is true of most reviewers who review films based on novels — they read some blurbs and summaries, but most reviewers haven’t done more than that.) “

    Thackeray was born in India (well, Bengal nowadays), and his parents families had been there for decades. He had a half-sister whose mother was probably “Eurasian.” This half-sister and her mother, Charlotte, are mentioned in Richmond Thackeray’s will. “Orientalism” was in full swing in England during the early 19th c. Turbans, feathers, draped cashmir shawls and various “exotic” paraphanalia was all the rage. If they weren’t trying to look like Grecian urns, Roman couch loungers, or Dacian shepherdeses, they were aiming to look like “Oriental” princesses or perhaps someone Biblical. I think Nair caught better than most, how fashionable society was really decked out, judging from contemporary descriptions. Society of the day tended to be an on-going costume party.

  29. Nair could be a great director, but probably will never be. She gets in her own way too much…directorial conceit…and it shows in many of her films. Bombay was probably the best (even with the ridiculous scene of the two waifs dancing jitter-bug); Wedding was almost-great; Masala OK and…Kamasutra…what a joke (though enjoyable from a prurient viewpoint.) In every movie I’ve seen, including Namesake, I cringe at some of her obvious choices…let’s make sure the audience gets THE POINT…and it seriously detracts from her otherwise enjoyable films.

    I don’t buy into this race-baiting overkill. Even Dargis’s statement can be read as her thinking Nair is an incompetent director, no more (her right as a critic, wrong though it may be.) I seriously doubt anyone cares negatively if directors are Indian, in fact they may get a mild pass for being so (vide Shymalan, who’s steadily going downhill).

  30. Is that after they crash into the water?

    correct. but just when you think the movie is over, jason appears from under the water.

  31. Mira Nair! The one who made Denzel famous in Mississippi Masala, brought us Monsoon Wedding and finally gave Kal Penn a serious role in* The Namesake*.–PhillyGirl Truth be told, Denzel Washington was already famous…he won an Oscar in “Glory” before he made Mississippi Masala. If anything, Mira Nair made Denzel a romantic lead/sex symbol in “Mississippi Masala.”

    He also won Golden Globe and NAACP Image awards for Glory, and had already acted in some pretty well received films like Cry Freedom for which he was also nominated for Golden Globe and Academy awards, so we can probably assume that he was already pretty famous in his own right. So perhaps it would have been a better statement to say that Mira Nair put him on the desi radar PhillyGirl?

  32. So perhaps it would have been a better statement to say that Mira Nair put him on the desi radar PhillyGirl?

    Noted. Thanks, AnjaliToo. Other folks pointed that out as well. My facetiousness went a bit over the top.

  33. Mira Nair can get a little annoying at times in movies like Monsoon Wedding or laughable with Kamasutra. But I thought she did a good job with movies like Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala. I thought the Roshan Seth character was a damn good one. One overlooked movie is Hysterical Blindness with Uma Thurman. She nailed that NJ bar scene very well.

  34. Denzel already won a best supporting Oscar for his performance in the film Glory prior to being in Mira Nair`s film. I think Mississippi Masala was a good movie but Nair did NOT make Denzel famous he already was famous PRIOR to the release of that film.

  35. Mira and Hilary came down to the NYTimes building and had a little q&a. Me and my lil sis checked it out. The program is called TimesTalk and is pretty cheap to see prominent figures. We got a chance to meet Penelope and Almodovar the week before!