Miramax is famous for two things: putting out arty, egdy movies that win lots of Oscars, and having a very large shelf full of unreleased films. (Just ask Billy Bob Thornton, whose Daddy and Them has been on that shelf for nearly two years.) Why does Miramax leave these movies sitting around? Probably because the films don’t work and the studio is reluctant to sully their good name by putting out too much garbage. Every once in a while, though, they dust one of those films off and slap in into theaters. The comedy View From the Top has been loitering at Miramax since 2001. Supposedly, it was delayed because no one would want to see a movie that made fun of pilots and flight attendants in the days after 9/11. One look at the finished product reveals the truth: this is a troubled movie. Among the clues is its brief 87-minute running time, which has been padded with a closing credit “blooper” segment. Also, some of the clips used in the trailer and TV commercials are conspicuously absent from the final cut. The trade publication Variety confirms numerous re-edits.
Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Donna Jensen, a young woman still reeling from a childhood spent in dirty trailer parks with a dysfunctional family. Predictably, she feels that there’s a whole big world out there she’s never seen because of her meager upbringing. Donna decides to become a flight attendant so she can improve her lot in life. The only place that will hire her is a discount airline that offers the cheapest flights on the oldest airplanes. It’s a start. While there, Donna meets two other flight attendants, Christine (Christina Applegate) and Sherry (Kelly Preston). They all become friends and apply together at Royalty Airlines – a first-class operation and, in theory, a ticket to the big time.
Here’s where the clichés start to pile up. The dedicated and hard-working Donna fails her trainee test and is relegated to the “express” division of Royalty, while perpetual screw-up Christine gets a prime assignment. (Think you can figure out what happened?) A frustrated Donna seeks guidance from “the world’s most famous flight attendant”, a.k.a. Sally Weston (Candice Bergin), hoping she can find a way to make her dreams come true. (Do you think she can?). And, of course, a movie like this needs a romance. This time it comes in the form of Ted (Mark Ruffalo), a nice guy who Donna really loves. The problem is that his job will keep in him Cleveland, which is a far cry from the Parisian fantasy Donna has. (Do you think she’ll decide to stay with him?)
Okay, there are clichés…lots of movies have them. I guess I just noticed them more here because there’s not much else to notice. View From the Top is one of those misguided movies that mistakes wackiness for depth. Because Donna comes from a trailer park, she automatically has to be tacky all the way through the film. She talks in a drawl and wears short skirts with horrid patterns on them. She has no class or refinement whatsoever. Ultimately, the humor doesn’t come from the character; it comes from her wardrobe or her “hick” attitudes. The other characters fare no better. Christine and Sherry are also poor, so they share the same bad taste in clothing. Character development does not revolve around someone’s bad clothes or lack of sophistication. Those things can be used as part of developing a character, but they can’t do it alone. That’s a mistake this film makes repeatedly. (Even the official uniforms Donna wears are made to look silly, so advancement does not bring a solution.)
Really, View From the Top is one big joke, and that joke is as old as it is obvious. How cutting edge is it to make fun of flight attendants anyway? The movie has nothing new to say about them. It assumes that all flight attendants fall into one of two categories: 1.) those who are world-class snobs; or 2.) those who are rubes, trying to escape dead-end lives by handing out warm nuts and beverages. I think screenwriter Eric Wald and director Bruno Baretto wanted to make the point that traveling the world means nothing unless you have a home (and a family) to come back to. It’s a nice message, but it is put across in an unoriginal way.
I think the film could have been improved by deciding what it wanted to be. The tone shifts back and forth between outrageous wackiness and heartfelt earnestness. I was never sure how seriously the picture wanted me to take it. For example, there are many scenes involving Donna getting all misty-eyed trying to decide whether to follow her dream of seeing the world or stay with Ted. There are just as many scenes featuring John Whitney (Mike Myers), a regulation obsessed trainer for Royalty. Myers was clearly allowed to improvise his entire role. He plays Whitney with crossed eyes and an anal-retentive streak that would have had Sigmund Freud tied up in knots. So one minute, View From the Top is trying to be an affecting female-empowerment tale about wacky, tacky women living their dreams, and the next minute it looks like outtakes from an Austin Powers movie. At the most basic level, the movie is a mess.
There’s a good cast here. Paltrow has done many fine films, Applegate is (I believe) a solid comedic actress, and Myers is a genius. However, they are stuck in a movie that doesn’t know what to do with them. The uneven script alternates between believing the characters are stupid and believing they are lovable. Or perhaps it just assumes that wearing tacky clothing and acting like a hick makes one inherently lovable. Clearly, the movie envisions itself as an airborne Legally Blonde, yet it lacks that film’s underlying intelligence and wit.
Looking back, I see I have repeatedly used certain words in this review: tacky, clichéd, uneven. All of them apply. I could add “unfunny” to that list. Movies, in general, work to inspire us. You seldom get downbeat tales about people trying to follow their dreams and failing. I have no problem with a story about a poor trailer park girl who fulfills her fantasy of seeing the world. What I despise is that View From the Top never makes that idea believable. The way it presents the characters made be believe none of them would ever be capable of handing any task that didn’t end with the question “would you like fries with that?”.
( 1/2 out of four)
View From the Top is rated PG-13 for language/sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.
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