On the evidence of her previous pictures, Gwyneth Paltrow seems an intelligent woman, an accomplished actress, and a beautiful person. So, what's she doing in a throwaway time waster like 2003's "View from the Top"?
The movie is a kind of "My Fair Lady" of the skies, Paltrow playing a young woman of little accomplishment who figures to better her position in life by becoming an airline flight attendant. The story manages simultaneously to glorify and ridicule flight attendants, so I'm not sure if the airline industry should be flattered or sue.
Ten minutes after you watch "View from the Top," you'll probably remember it as a Mike Myers flick rather than a Gwyneth Paltrow movie. Myers' antics are silly, but for what they're worth they help infuse a little spark into the proceedings as he practically steals the show.
Paltrow in the movie is a young woman named Donna Jensen, a small-town gal from Silver Springs, Nevada. Her mother is a heavily made-up, oft-divorced ex-showgirl, and her estranged father is a beer-swilling motorcycle cowboy. Donna lives with her mom and her newest layabout stepdad in a trailer park. The script lays it on pretty thick to make the point that Donna has not had many chances to succeed in the world, nor does she want to until she happens to see Sally Weston interviewed on TV. Sally Weston is, of all things, a celebrity flight attendant who has just written a best-seller called "My Life in the Sky," a book that inspires the downtrodden Donna to better herself by becoming a glamorous and dedicated airline employee. Later, we find that Sally Weston got where she is not because of the book but because she met and married a multimillionaire while serving on an airplane My guess is that this irony is supposed to be a part of the joke.
Donna can't wait to leave home, and she starts work with the small, tacky Sierra Airlines flying shuttles to Bakersfield. Big hair and short skirts are all the airline cares about in their flight attendants. The first time she's in the air, Donna goes screaming down the aisles that they're all going to crash and die. I can always tell how bad a movie is when I'm watching it at home by the number of times I get up and wander about the house, trying desperately to find something else to do. This film is eighty-seven minutes long, and it took me two-and-a-half hours to get through.
At Sierra she meets her best friend, Christine Montgomery (Christina Applegate), another fight attendant, whose trademarks are the hearts over her i's when she writes and the hickeys she gives. Donna also meets her romantic interest at this time, the humdrum Ted, played by Mark Ruffalo. Ted is working as a lake patrolman after dropping out of law school. But both he and Donna are inspired to do better, Ted to go back to school and Donna to apply for flight attendant training at the world's most prestigious air transportation company, Royalty Airlines. Sally Weston's husband just happens to own it.
And this brings us to Mike Myers, the only small salvation in an otherwise dreary film with an overly stated theme of trying to better oneself in the face of extreme odds. Myers plays John Whitney, the wacko head of Royalty's flight attendant trainee program. His cockeyed gimmick is literally having one cocked eye. Look at his close-ups and you'll see the contact lens that appears to make one of his eyes perpetually out of position. The eye gives Myers ample opportunity for his typical zaniness, but it's a one-note gag that wears thin fast. The mention of "warm nuts" also gets overplayed.
The movie is supposed to be about Donna's late-blooming coming-of-age in the high-flying environs of flight attending, but it's actually about little at all, the script being bereft of wit or depth. Like so much that comes out of Hollywood, it's a film aimed at the lowest common denominator, apparently designed expressly for a TV generation who have no notion of quality programming.
Indeed, there isn't much about "View from the Top" that works. Minus Myers, and he's merely a supporting player, you have almost nothing left. The film is not really a romantic comedy because the romance is so watered down, nor is it a straight-out comedy because there is so little humor involved. Paltrow does her best to compete with the annoying pop-rock music that continually drowns out every scene, but it's a losing cause. Not even cameos by Rob Lowe as a copilot, Chad Everett as Sally's Weston's husband, or George Kennedy as an airline passenger can rev up this plummeting plane wreck.
The image is presented in a 2.13:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen that shows the action and characters vividly, if not entirely realistically. Fact is, the colors are so bright, they do not appear entirely natural. They're well suited, though, to some of the cartoonish tomfoolery of the movie. While darkest areas of the screen are slightly murky, the definition is reasonably sharp, there are few jittery lines, and there is practically no grain.
The audio is reproduced via Dolby Digital 5.1, but its mid-bass response is so strong and thumping and the rock-inflected soundtrack so loud and annoying, the viewer may soon be wishing the sound were a softer mono. In fact, the music is so blaring at times it's hard to hear the dialogue. You just want to turn down the volume, requiring you to turn it back up again to hear what people are saying. Deep bass is potent and stereo spread is adequate, although I found too often the right and left speakers were used too obviously, leaving a hole in the center of the sound field. Meanwhile, the surrounds are used sparingly, a few voices and occasional musical ambience reinforcement their main service.
Three featurettes highlight the bonus department. The first is called "History of the Flight Attendant," ten minutes of history on the subject hosted by Rene Foss, author of "Around the World in a Bad Mood"; I see it of interest primarily to flight attendants. The second featurette, "Journey Inside View from the Top," is six minutes long and functions as a self-congratulatory promo. The third featurette is three minutes worth of music from the movie, including snippets of LeAnn Rimes and "Suddenly," Sofia Loell and "Utopia," Kaci and "I'm Not Anybody's Girl," and "Natalie Grant and "No Sign of It." Finally, there some pan-and-scan Sneak Peeks at other BV titles and a mere seventeen scene selections. English and French are the spoken language options, with English captions for the hearing impaired.
The main character in "View from the Top," Donna, is supposed to take a while learning to be a classy lady, but Paltrow is a classy lady from the very start, so she doesn't have far enough to go to make a convincing portrait. A clue to this dilemma is when the supposedly knowledge-challenged Donna early on in the picture answers to her name on the phone by saying, "This is she." I mean, how many well-educated people say "This is she," let alone one less-educated?
In any case, "View from the Top" is the kind of movie you just have to sit through and wait out. With the exception of Myers, it's not very funny; the romance is insipid; the plot is tedious; and the themes are redundant. This film is more like a view from cable; if you have to see it, wait for it one late night.