Amelia & Motherhood

by Melissa Silverstein on October 23, 2009

in Reviews

amelia-posterIt’s opening day for Amelia and Motherhood.

I am out of town today at a meeting so here are truncated reviews of both films.  I will have an interview with Katherine Dieckmann writer and director of Motherhood next week.

Amelia Earhart is one of those women in history who fascinates.  She broke every boundary and convention for a woman in her time.  Hilary Swank takes on the role of Amelia as a woman who just wants to fly and be free in a time when women were literally grounded.  She wore pants, refused to say obey in the vows at her wedding, and didn’t take her husband and promoter George Putman’s name.  It was exciting to watch the story of a woman who was one of the first real celebrities ever, who because she did things and lived the way she did made it easier for everyone who came after her.  There are not many women who can say that.  I kept waiting for the film to soar like Amelia herself but it got bogged down in a sappy love story between Amelia and Putman (played by Richard Gere).  And speaking of Swank and Gere, in real life Earhart and Putman were only 10 years apart, but in the film there is 25 years between the actors (not cool).  Even though you know what happens (well no one really knows what happened exactly) the last ten minutes when they are flying over the pacific looking for Howland island are nail biting and it made me for once wish for a happy Hollywood ending. Film is directed by Mira Nair and it has a wonderful score by Gabriel Yared.  (Opens on 800 screens in most cities.)

motherhood-posterWriter/director Katherine Dieckmann wanted to make Motherhood because there were no “decent “comedies about mothers.  So she took pieces from her own life and added Uma Thurman as Eliza a harried mommy blogger desperate to regain her writing voice and herself, and we have Motherhood.  I respect that Dieckmann tried to show the realities of one day in an urban mom’s life, focusing on the mundane issues that women go through on a day in and day out basis that grind on you and suck out your creativity.  Eliza is desperate to regain the edge she had before kids yet no matter how hard she struggles, the lists she creates, or even how early she gets up, she is only able to catch a few minutes here or there for her and her writing.  The film illuminates the frustrations women face but I kind of wish she would have left out the whole Eliza as a mommy blogger storyline.  I think that the problem was that between when the movie was made and released mommy blogging and blogging in general has exploded.  As a blogger and a person who knows lots of mommy bloggers, blogging is a serious endeavor to all of us.  It’s not something you do in the 10 seconds you have between laundry loads just so you can have written something.  That being said, one of the film’s strengths is that it is able to show the joys and challenges of being a certain type of woman today (white, middle class, educated) who was promised lots of opportunities yet still feels held back.  I’m sure there are lots of women who will relate to it. (Opens on 35 screens in NY, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston.)  Also if you buy your ticket through Fandango, $1 will go to the Susan G. Komen Fund for breast cancer research.

This interview of Nair comes courtesy of the folks at MakingOf a behind the scenes look at how movies are made:

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist October 23, 2009 at 10:27 AM

Amelia Earhart has always been one of my heroes. So, I am really devastated and disappointed that AMELIA have had gotten so many negative reviews. And I’m also disappointed to hear that the movie focused more on the sappy relationship rather than on Amelia’s historic achievements. Maybe that’s the reason the movie is so bad, eh?

Thomai in L.A. (it rhymes) October 23, 2009 at 8:35 PM

“I’m sure there are lots of women who will relate to it.”

uh, not exactly a good review. was it that bad ?

Thomai in L.A. (it rhymes) October 23, 2009 at 8:38 PM

I love Mira Nair’s work.

I don’t need a love story in every film, am I alone? And I really don’t need a huge age gap between the actors, it’s usually enough to keep me from seeing a film ~ Yeah studio’s, some of us are that over it.

ash October 25, 2009 at 5:24 PM

Eeek, why Susan G. Komen? (Who brought us such fantastic fundraising devices as Jingle Jugs and the idea that exploitation for fundraising is fine…)

http://www.alternet.org/story/14014/
http://www.myspace.com/thejinglejugs

Amelia October 26, 2009 at 12:13 AM

Great reviews, thank you.

Very disappointed that “Amelia” has been turned into more of a love story than anything else, I was really looking forward to seeing it! They tried to do turn “Iron Jawed Angels” (starring Hilary Swank) into a bit of a love story too. I guess they think that that will increase their audience, because they presume that some women will only want to see love stories.

I am so bored of love stories. And I am sick of the presumption that a movie about a woman, or a movie for women, has to have a love story in it. I love Hilary Swank, and a movie about someone as cool as Amelia Earhart sounded promising. Plus, Amelia Earhart had the same name as me. Maybe I’ll get over the ‘love story’ derailment of the plot and go see the movie anyway. There are so few films centred around a strong female character that are not about finding love.

Jelperman October 26, 2009 at 3:21 PM

And speaking of Swank and Gere, in real life Earhart and Putman were only 10 years apart, but in the film there is 25 years between the actors (not cool).

What’s “not cool” about it?

stephanie rosenfeld October 27, 2009 at 12:20 PM

Mahnola Darghis said the same thing in the NYT (10/24), basically, and I agree:

Hilary Swank doesn’t wear a prosthetic to play Amelia Earhart in the new movie about the aviator: she has a man on her arm instead. The film “Amelia” subscribes to the Great Woman Theory of history, which, as is often the case with distaff stories, largely involves the great woman and the men in her life. In male biographies, women tend to silently suffer or whine and shriek on the sidelines. The main suffering here is done by Earhart’s husband, the publisher G. P. Putnam (Richard Gere). His tears help domesticate the aviator, who’s never allowed to fly solo, at least metaphorically. The real Earhart urged young women to pursue careers: “If we begin to think and respond as capable human beings able to deal with and even enjoy the challenges of life, then we sure will have something more to contribute to marriage than our bodies.”

Evidently Earhart’s bobbed hair, fondness for slacks and unyielding independence — on the eve of their wedding, she gave Putnam a prenuptial letter with an opt-out clause — presented too confusing a vision of modern womanhood for filmmakers chasing what Hollywood types see as a fickle female audience. (Given the industry’s wholesale embrace of antediluvian ideas about what women want and like, this group might be more rightly labeled the Dark Continent Demographic.) At the very least, you would have thought that the people behind “Amelia” would have noticed that, in the last Democratic primary, a lot of potential ticket buyers voted for an independent woman with cropped hair and a penchant for pantsuits. Then again Hillary Rodham Clinton only made it to the State Department, an achievement unlikely to rate a glossy biopic treatment.

stephanie rosenfeld October 27, 2009 at 12:21 PM

Sorry, forgot quotation marks — all that (above) is Dargis.

DB October 30, 2009 at 12:58 PM

An open letter to Manohla Dargis regarding her review of “Amelia”:

What has happened to you, Manohla Dargis? Once a hero to women watching as you worked your way to power in the critics circle, do you now feel the need to go for the jugular of women filmmakers to earn your seat at the table? You’d never write the male version of this phrase:

Dargis: “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’)….”

This sentence is so shocking, it’s hard for me and my friends (male & female) to even get our heads around it.

Imagine the reverse: The director Steven Spielberg/Steven Soderberg/Michael Bay/(and so on so forth), whose only qualification appears to be that he’s a man who has made others films about and with men (name two of their fairly major movies here)…

Not only have you added to a damaging attitude of belittling women in the industry — and what’s more in a high-profile, intelligent newspaper — but, in one sentence, you have undermined not only all of Nair’s work, but ALL female filmmakers’ work.

As you must know, a director is not entirely responsible for the script and finished product of a film, so they deserve neither all the credit, nor all the blame. When dealing with a huge studio budget such as this film Amelia’s, there would be dozens of people involved with creating a mainstream vision of this story, and THAT is what should be criticized here. You may hold Nair responsible for her part, but you have a duty to also bring your knowledge of the studio system and its increasing pressures to create middle-of-the-road films aimed to maximize profit, rather than make a great film. This film’s flaws are not falling only at the feet on Nair; indeed, she would have enormous pressure as a woman simply having the director position of such a large budget feature to bring it in as desired by studio execs. Don’t be naive, Dargis, about the process. It is unbecoming and mean-spirited. I don’t believe you make such personal attacks of male directors that you review. It begs the question: why did you choose to say this about Nair?

Please take a serious look into yourself for this slip, and then write a follow up article calling attention to your own mistake, showing how insidious and subtle (or not so subtle, in your case) that these perceptions and dismissals are… in short, what an uphill battle women have, not just in overt ways, but by being undermined by their own colleagues.

You have shown that not only can women not just be criticized for their work, but they are criticized for WHO THEY ARE.

You, of all people, as a smart person, a thoughtful person, and what’s more, as a female critic!, should know how tough it is for women in ANY industry, and I would certainly not expect you to add to that burden by denigrating a person for her gender. (Would you like it if you were dismissed as a person whose only qualification is that you are a woman who has written reviews about movies with women in them? I can’t even conceive that you would ever like that as your NYT bio.)

Dargis, you write better than this. You should be better than this. I hope to see you directly address this problem in order to regain our confidence that you have lost.

NOTE: The NYT site did not post this or another note from a different reader, I’ve learned, completely unconnected to this reader’s (a short note which said the review was sexist and disappointing). Censorship from the NYT regarding readers comments against sexism? Strange and disturbing.

Melissa Silverstein November 1, 2009 at 8:20 PM

I don’t understand how the times didn’t run your letter. i find that bizarre.

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