It is curious to note that “View From the Top” was originally slated to be released at least a year ago, but was shelved due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Additionally, a reportedly hysterical scene in which Mike Myers instructs the trainees on what to do during a terrorist attack was removed from the American release.
I understand the reasons for this, considering anything to do with planes in the wake of 9/11 had to be dealt with in a sensitive manner. However, there’s nothing remotely offensive in the film, and I don’t understand why it was released so late in the game. Other movies, like Collateral Damage and Big Trouble had far more extreme and relevant scenes and achieved earlier release dates than March 2003. It leads one to speculate on whether Miramax had other reservations about this film – like its weak characters and thin plot.
“View from the Top” follows the struggles of Donna Jenson (Paltrow) as she tries to escape her dead-end life in small town Nevada. After her boyfriend (a “big wig” assistant manager at Big Lots) breaks up with her, she follows her dream to become a flight attendant and see the world. Donna starts her career in the skies at Sierra Airlines, a commuter plane company that shuttles gamblers and drunks to Las Vegas.
Soon, Donna longs for something bigger and convinces her flight attendant friends (Applegate and Preston) to join her in San Francisco to apply for jobs at Royalty Airlines. Thus begins a career in the air, which soon conflicts with Donna’s love interest Ted (Ruffalo). Donna is soon forced to choose between the jet set life and true love.
“View From the Top” is clearly a love letter to Paltrow, offering her plenty of moments to show off, but her acting is often flat and the self-adoration of the movie is almost too much to handle. By the end, I wanted to throttle her for trying to be the Mary Richards of the air, but coming across so sweet that you need a shot of insulin to get through the film. Just hand me the vomit bag now!
This film starts out with the biting satire of trailer life, the kind of edge we’ve seen in films like Joe Dirt and Drop Dead Gorgeous. The biggest problem it has is that it doesn’t maintain this edge. Once Donna gets her wings and graduates from flight attendant school, the tone shifts suddenly into a story about a career woman making her life work. The love interest Ted is so lamely too-good-to-be-true that he’s barely even worth mentioning. So I won’t mention him anymore.
The wacky scenes in the beginning show Donna as a dimwitted airhead, but she somehow emerges as a book-smart, sophisticated lady in the middle of the film. I find it hard to believe that a six-week training class can impose that much of a change on a person. The filmmakers should have stuck to their guns and maintained one tone for the film. One story could have been a hot fudge sundae. The other could have been elegantly prepared beef stroganoff. By trying to be everything, we end up with a scoop of ice cream topped with beef gravy.
The plot is actually pretty weak, trying to milk the old standby about the small town girl trying to go somewhere. It glorifies flight attendants in a way that hasn’t been seen since the titillating book Coffee, Tea or Me. I’ve flown plenty in my life and, even when I’ve been fortunate enough to be placed in first class or business class, the flight attendants are anything but excited about their jobs.
One might be tempted to say that a perk of “View From the Top” is the sexy trailer trash outfits that Gwyneth Paltrow and Christina Applegate wear through the first half of the film. This might be true if you like scary-thin, chicken-legged women with no hips. In these outfits, it is almost shocking how gaunt these women are.
Candice Bergen plays Sally, the world’s most famous flight attendant, who becomes Donna’s mentor. Bergen’s performance is basically a retread of Kathy Morningside from Miss Congeniality – only without the teeth. The love fests that occur between Sally and Donna throughout the movie are hard to watch (as is Bergen herself, who has gotten painfully old and wrinkled for the big screen).
Mike Myers is undoubtedly the funniest part of the movie as John Whitney, the skewed-eyed flight attendant trainer. However, his performance is bittersweet when you realize that Myers’ character is nothing more than an amalgamation of Dr. Evil, Austin Powers and Wayne Campbell. To paraphrase an old episode of “Dr. Katz,” it’s like when you’re a kid and you think your dad is Superman, then you grow up and learn he’s just a guy who likes to wear tights.
Myers is the top comedian of the past decade with his success with the Austin Powers films and earlier box office coups with “Wayne’s World.” However, his performance in “View From the Top” reminds us that he is a terribly limited comedian with only a few characters in his repertoire. This isn’t really a news flash, of course. Wasn’t Shrek (and Fat Bastard, for that matter) just an updated version of his “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!” character he played on SNL?
And one final note from the heart of Ohio… “View From the Top” pulls no punches on painting Cleveland as the armpit of the world (referred to numerous times as a “waiting room”), yet glorifies cities like New York and Paris. Believe me, there are far worse places to be than Cleveland – like Toledo.